Whitehall bosses accused of 'racist institutional bias' by civil service's biggest union

29 May 2023, 17:06 | Updated: 30 May 2023, 00:13

Whitehall has been accused of “racist institutional bias” by the civil service’s largest union as it claims that white staff are twice as likely to be promoted.
Whitehall has been accused of “racist institutional bias” by the civil service’s largest union as it claims that white staff are twice as likely to be promoted. Picture: Alamy

By Emma Soteriou and Chris Samuel

Whitehall has been accused of “racist institutional bias” by the civil service’s largest union as it claims that white staff are twice as likely to be promoted.

Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) general secretary Mark Serwotka said there was not a “plausible alternative” to the figures uncovered.

Almost one in 10 (9.8 per cent) of civil servants reported in 2022 that they had faced discrimination because of their ethnicity.

It was a drop from 11.3 per cent the year before but an increase from 4.6 per cent in 2012.

It comes after civil service bosses were accused of denying the organisation was institutionally biased in a letter to Cabinet Office permanent secretary Alex Chisholm.

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In the letter, seen by The Times, Mr Serwotka said: “Certainly the data we have analysed shows a consistent pattern over the 14 months of staff recorded as white being twice as likely to be successfully promoted as staff recorded as non-white; with the figure for those recorded as black being even worse.”

A government spokeperson told The Times is is 'committed to ensuring that the civil service reflects the country it serves at all levels'.
A government spokeperson told The Times is is 'committed to ensuring that the civil service reflects the country it serves at all levels'. Picture: Alamy

“The service, along with organisations such as the Metropolitan Police resist the notion that it is institutionally biased,” he continued.

“However, if the differences in promotion rates are not driven by racism, what is the explanation?

“If you cannot provide a plausible alternative explanation, then the civil service must admit there is bias in the system.”

The paper previously reported that an internal review by the Cabinet Office had found that civil servants who bullied, harassed or racially discriminated against co-workers didn't face disciplinary action, and under a freedom of information request, revealed that over the course of five years, the department had spent almost £300,000 settling cases of race and disability discrimination.

The report was said to have included examples of non-white staff feeling alienated, and suffering “micro-aggressions.”

In the letter, Mr Serwotka accused Mr Chisholm of presiding over a “wholly broken system” in recruitment across the civil service, and claimed that in the Cabinet Office “little or nothing has been achieved and racism still remains a major issue in your own department”.

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Speaking at the public administration and constitutional affairs committee this month, Mr Chisholm said the department had accepted all of the report's 61 recommendations, but said while there some were "quick wins", implementing others "will take a longer period of time".

Mr Chisholm said that measures included encouraging staff to come forward with their concerns and also bringing in external decision makers.

But the outlet reported last week that anti-bullying firm Culture Shift, which was given £140,000 by the Cabinet Office to run an anonymous incident reporting platform, was itself being taken to employment tribunal accused of disability discrimination.

A source from the department quoted by The Times said it was "urgently reviewing" its contract with the company.

A Government spokesperson said: “We are committed to ensuring that the civil service reflects the country it serves at all levels.

“We’ve already seen a significant rise in representation of different backgrounds and locations, with the representation of ethnic minority civil servants at a record high.

“We are not complacent and continue to make reforms to how the civil service recruits and promotes talent to raise representation at the most senior levels, for example — a record quarter of all fast stream applicants came from an ethnic minority background last year.”

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