Employers Face Ethnic Quotas For Public Work

Rajeev Syal, Times (London), Aug. 7, 2006

COMPANIES that bid for multimillion-pound Government contracts will be rejected if they do not employ enough black and Asian workers, under new proposals seen by The Times.

A powerful committee that includes seven ministers has drawn up plans to question competing companies about their attitudes to race before choosing which to employ. Firms will be asked to provide figures showing the numbers of their black and Asian employees. This figure will be compared with the proportion of people from ethnic minorities living near the company’s offices and will be a factor when deciding the winning bid.

Three pilot schemes have been authorised with the support of Downing Street—the first time that “positive vetting” in procurement has been approved by a British Government. It follows the release of figures showing that people from ethnic minorities are twice as likely to be unemployed as the white majority.

Programmes of “affirmative action” have proved controversial in America, where some business leaders say that they can hinder the employment market and discriminate against white workers.

The British plans were approved last month by the Ethnic Minority Employment Task Force, which brings together seven government departments. Iqbal Wahhab, a member of the Task Force and the chairman of the Ethnic Minority Advisory Group, a government-backed think-tank, said the plans were moving ahead quickly.

“These new procurement policies are required to assist employers in making more enlightened recruitment decisions,” he said. “It may be unpopular in certain quarters, but the fact remains that we should not have been in this kind of position in the first place.”

If the pilot schemes are successful, positive vetting across other all government departments could be introduced in 2007, a source said.

A spokesman for the British Chambers of Commerce said that the plans would hinder the competitive tendering process and make it more difficult and expensive. “Public tenders are already complicated enough,” he said. “Lengthening the applications will only further dissuade businesses from applying for public work.

“This will do nothing to ensure that government contracts go to the firms with the most competitive bids.”

A spokeswoman for the Department for Work and Pensions confirmed that the pilot schemes had been approved after consultation with business leaders, unions and the Commission for Racial Equality. The three schemes involve contracts with Job Centre Plus, the Identity and Passport Agency and the Department for Education and Skills.

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