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"Improving Opportunity, Strengthening Society"

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Fiona Mactaggart): Today I am announcing the launch of the race equality and community cohesion strategy and we are publishing race equality data for key public service areas—race equality in public services. The following documents related to this area will also be published today ( "Race Equality", the "Home Secretary's Employment Targets" and "Non-Agency Home Office Diversity and Equal Opportunities Report 2003–04".

We are also publishing the Home Office overarching race equality scheme and core—Non Immigration and Nationality Department (IND)—Home Office Associate Race Equality Scheme.

The Race Equality and Community Cohesion Strategy sets out one strand of the Government's overall drive to improve fairness and opportunities for all in Britain; how we will ensure that a person's ethnicity is not a barrier to their success and how we will foster the cohesion necessary to enable people from minority and majority communities to work together for social and economic progress. Many members of black and minority ethnic communities are very successful in Britain today, but the picture is not uniform, as certain communities still generally experience poorer outcomes than the majority—for example, in education, health and employment. Given this variation, the way we are addressing black and minority ethnic disadvantage is changing. The Government will give greater emphasis to tailored initiatives that meet the specific needs of particularly disadvantaged communities, rather than treating all black and minority ethnic communities in the same way—for example addressing specific health conditions such as heart disease in south Asian communities.

A cohesive society relies on more than equal opportunities for individuals. A number of social conditions also help people to come together from all backgrounds and develop a sense of inclusion and shared British identity. This strategy heralds the Government's intention to give greater emphasis to promoting a sense of common belonging and cohesion among groups through programmes with outcomes which include, making racism unacceptable, young people from different backgrounds to grow up with a sense of common belonging, integrating immigrants,
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people having opportunities to develop a greater understanding of the range of cultures that contribute to our strength as a country, people from all backgrounds having opportunities to participate in civic society and marginalising extremists who promote hate. Examples of new initiatives include a pilot citizenship day and exploring options for celebrating the transition to adulthood.

In order to drive progress, the strategy highlights the importance of the Government's overarching public service agreement to reduce race inequalities and build community cohesion. The Commission for Racial Equality will continue to develop ways to ensure that the duty on all public bodies to eliminate unlawful discrimination and promote equal opportunities and good relations is adhered to. The strategy outlines our intention to introduce new legislation against discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief in the provision of goods, facilities and services.

This is a cross-government strategy which draws together and consolidates existing programmes and introduces new measures where necessary. The focus is on practical steps which can be taken by central and local government, public services, the voluntary sector, business, local communities and citizens to make a difference.

Race Equality in Public Services brings together race equality data for the key public service areas and provides the statistical background to the Government's strategy to increase race equality and community cohesion, and for our PSA targets to tackle inequalities in public services. It includes data on the labour market, educational attainment, housing, the criminal justice system, perceptions of racial inequalities and health inequalities. It will continue to monitor outcomes in this way so that we can ensure that services are provided in a way that caters for the needs of those from difference ethnic and religious backgrounds.

Home Secretary's Employment Targets report details progress against the targets set in 1999 to measure the recruitment, retention and career progression of minority ethnic staff in the Home Office, IND, UK Passport Agency, Forensic Science Service, Prison Service, Police Service and National Probation Service. This is the fifth such annual report and marks the halfway point towards the 2009 targets. Considerable progress has been made over the last five years, the proportion of minority ethnic staff in the core Home Office has risen from 20 per cent. in 1999 to 36.3 per cent. in 2004 exceeding the 25 per cent. target set for 2009. In the Immigration Service the proportion has risen even more from 7 per cent. to 25.9 per cent., far in excess of its 7 per cent. national target. The Police Service has
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worked hard to increase recruitment and ensure the progression of minority ethnic staff and has seen a rise in representation from 3 per cent. in 1999 to 4.3 per cent. in 2004, narrowly missing the 2004 milestone target of 4.6 per cent.

The Home Office Diversity and Equal Opportunities Report brings together the findings from a range of diversity monitoring processes in the non-agency Home Office to provide a comprehensive picture of the diversity make-up of the department. The report fulfils the requirements of the Race Relations Act (RRA) and extends the race employment monitoring required by that Act to the other diversity strands of gender, disability and age. It includes statistics for the core Home Office and IND. As well as satisfying our legal obligations this document provides a series of benchmarks such as grade breakdown of the diversity strands, against which we can measure the success of action and initiatives under the five-year race and diversity programme. The report shows that the department employed 19,000 people, 25 per cent. of whom were from black and minority ethnic backgrounds and 3.75 per cent. of staff in the senior civil service (SCS) were from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, exceeding our target of 3.2 per cent.

The revised versions of the Home Office Overarching Race Equality Scheme and Core (Non IND) Home Office Associate Race Equality Scheme set out how we will meet the duties on us set out in the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 and associated secondary legislation. Following the publication of the first Home Office race equality schemes in 2002, these revised version are produced in line with the requirement on all public authorities, set out in secondary legislation, to revise their race equality schemes before 31 May 2005. They are consultation documents—we are seeking views on our approach to these issues as set out in the documents.


The Committee on Standards in Public Life

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): I am pleased to announce that the 10th report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, "Getting the Balance Right: Implementing Standards of Conduct in Public Life" has been published today by the Committee. Copies have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses,


Benefit Fraud Inspectorate

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. Chris Pond): On behalf of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate (BFI) has today announced its phase 11 programme of work.

BFI will be undertaking a number of shorter inspections focused on the areas of poor local authority performance in the administration of housing benefits.
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Seven inspections will focus on authorities that are slow in processing new benefit claims. The authorities are Dacorum Borough Council, South Ayrshire Council, Inverclyde Council, North Wiltshire District Council, Boston Borough Council, East Dunbartonshire Council and Perth and Kinross Council.

Inspections focusing on the adequacy of councils' counter-fraud arrangements will be undertaken at Falkirk Council, West Dunbartonshire Council and Brentwood Borough Council.

Two focused inspections on authorities' control of overpayments and the causes of those overpayments will be undertaken at Aberdeen City Council and Tandridge District Council.

BFI will undertake four full inspections. Great Yarmouth Borough Council, Slough Borough Council and Malvern Hills have been identified following a "fair" score in the recent Comprehensive Performance Assessments. The fourth authority, Bridgend County Borough Council, was identified as being at risk in the recent Wales Programme of Improvement.

BFI is an independent unit within the Department for Work and Pensions that inspects and reports directly to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the standard of benefits administration and counter-fraud activity in local authorities and the Department itself.

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