Britain’s biggest police force is to become the first public body to adopt a policy that gives priority for top jobs to black people and women.
The Metropolitan Police will recruit senior officers and promote civilian staff from minority groups in ‘tie-break’ situations where they are just as qualified as white or male candidates.
Scotland Yard’s diversity board has warned that the ‘positive action’ policy, made legal by equality laws last year, will be controversial.
The move could trigger lawsuits by job applicants who lose out and is likely to raise concerns that successful candidates were chosen to fill quotas rather than on merit. But a meeting chaired by Met Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe took the decision to use positive action after it was given Government advice.
Minutes of the policy forum meeting on July 11 state: ‘The Forum were supportive of using a legal provision that could potentially deliver a more diverse workforce.
‘It accepted the Diversity Board’s caution but were confident that Legal Services could guide on the few occasions this provision would be used.’
Recent figures show that although one in ten of the Met’s 32,000 officers come from ethnic minorities, there are just two black and Asian men in the highest rank.
In March this year the Met had 7,829 female officers – but only seven in the chief officer tier. Since then three high-profile women have retired.
As part of efforts to make its workforce more representative of London’s population, the Met considered if it should use the new equality law that allows positive action.
The legislation, introduced in April last year, lets employers recruit or promote candidates if they have a ‘protected characteristic’, such as race, that is under-represented.
But Scotland Yard’s Diversity Executive Board warned in an internal paper: ‘This is legislation, ambiguously written, with no case law existing to support legal advice. No public or private sector organisations contacted have plans to use it.’
But Ilana Swimer, an employment expert at law firm Halebury, said: ‘Even if the Met decide to support this provision, it is unlikely to have a significant impact on diversity.
‘Indeed, any employer who recruits a candidate having relied on this provision could open themselves up to challenge by other candidates who feel they have been treated unfairly.’
Charles Crichlow, president of the National Black Police Association, denied it would lead to tokenism.
‘You would be getting your job on merit because it’s only open to equally qualified candidates,’ he said.