Select Committee on Work and Pensions Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 170 - 179)

MONDAY 20 NOVEMBER 2006

MS AMANDA ARISS, MS KAVERI SHARMA, MR ALAN CHRISTIE AND MR SUKHVINDER SINGH

  Q170  Justine Greening: You are saying, given how many people the public sector itself employs, that the Government could walk the talk a bit more, robustly perhaps?

  Mr Christie: The bigger benefit is not so much the number that the public sector employs directly but the number that could be employed by contractors providing services to the public sector, which would be available to ethnic minority populations if the procurement programme was more aggressive than it is currently. I think the overarching piece in all of this is to ask the question is the policy being developed by people who reflect the community that is being served, do they actually understand the needs of the community that is being served. We talked about particular challenges for Bangladeshi women, for example, what efforts are in place which engage Bangladeshi women in the development of employment programmes to serve them. There is a huge opportunity to explore possibilities in that direction which would be of some benefit.

  Q171  Justine Greening: Clearly, you think that the role of targeted employment programmes can work very, very effectively?

  Mr Christie: Yes. I think targeted programmes are important. I will not say that there is not a place for broad-brush approaches as well, but certainly targeting, particularly to reach hard to reach communities, is absolutely vital.

  Q172  Justine Greening: Do you feel that sometimes these programmes do not get long enough to bed down, and they are cut perhaps before we get to see whether they really work?

  Mr Christie: Certainly, I think we would all acknowledge that some of the issues which are being dealt with are difficult and complex and they are going to take time to be resolved. Whether the programmes get long enough is like how long is a piece of string. Honestly, I do not know the answer to that.

  Q173  Justine Greening: I see nods from the Equal Opportunities Commission?

  Ms Ariss: Yes. I think we are going to have quite an outbreak of agreement really between the EOC and the CRE about much that we are going to be saying. I think we would also see a very important role for public procurement; one of the reasons I think we would stress is that it has got tremendous potential, which in this country is not really being used. Although we have already got a law in place which requires public bodies to pay due regard to the need to promote race equality in the way they carry out all their functions, and that includes procurement, my understanding is that, public bodies, I suppose you could say most charitably that their response has been very mixed and we are very concerned that should be the case. Just to cite one example, we have given some evidence recently to the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, highlighting our concern in the context of the legacy for the Olympics, that the Olympics Delivery Authority is not doing anything like enough to make sure that people who live in the boroughs where the Olympics will take place are going to be in a position to benefit from the job creation that the Olympics are expected to bring. If you look at the boroughs that we are talking about, places like Newham and Tower Hamlets, there is a huge pool of potential workers there, including large numbers of ethnic minority women and men; there is plenty of evidence of a lot of people who are out of work but want jobs. It looks like a golden opportunity really to make that legacy work, and it is not happening.

  Q174  Justine Greening: Why do you think that opportunity is being missed?

  Ms Ariss: That is quite hard to say. I think it is partly that the people in charge of procurement may not realise quite what a big difference they could make if they could do things differently and I think it is partly about leadership, that there needs to be some very consistent leadership from the top of organisations to say "This is part of how we do business." It is partly about awareness-raising, partly about leadership, I think it is also about public bodies, which are not doing what they could be, being challenged by organisations, like ourselves, to do better.

  Q175  Justine Greening: One of the people who gave evidence earlier was talking about this pipeline. Do you think there is not enough focus on the pipeline which the Olympics are obviously at the end of? It seems to me, as a London MP, that you would have to try really quite hard not to involve your local community in the job opportunities which something like the Olympics creates. I am surprised to hear what you are saying.

  Ms Ariss: You would think it would follow, would you not, but it does not always. There is a framework of European law around procurement which governs how large contracts, how tenders, are let; they have to be advertised in a particular way. Obviously, you have got firms from all over Europe, potentially, or all over the world, putting in for these sorts of contracts, not just people who are based in the area, which would benefit.

  Q176  Justine Greening: You are saying that one of the problems actually is that there can be a conflict; the best value for the overall project itself may not equal what is best for the community, in terms of what we are trying to achieve with the Olympics?

  Ms Ariss: The law does allow people to take equality into account, and we produced some guidance and a Code of Practice, which in fact is a draft Code of Practice because it is with Parliament at the moment, which sets out the steps that contractors can take, so there is a great deal that they can do, it is just that many of them do not actually do it.

  Mr Christie: The mantra you will hear from procurement professionals is that it is difficult, and adding in the equalities element is a complication. There is a role here for leadership. We are involved in the Ethnic Minority Employment Task Force, the cross-departmental Task Force; we have three departmental pilot projects. There are other departments which have stated that they are unable to identify a single contracting project which would be appropriate for an equalities pilot, which strikes us as surprising. We would argue certainly that all of these contracts, all government contracts, should be appropriate and should be regarded as an opportunity to promote equality. The problem is that the procurement professionals will tell you that this is difficult, this is hard, there is an additional level of complication and they have got many other factors to take into account.

  Q177  Justine Greening: What are the reasons they are saying which make it hard for them?

  Mr Christie: It is legal, to a large degree, it is meeting their competitive tender responsibilities, they have got to get value for money, and so on and so forth, and how you balance value for money against equality, for instance, how you assess those. This is where the leadership thing comes in. This is where, for example, Transport for London has shown great initiative and determination in the way that they have gone about procurement for the East London Line project, and in many ways is creating an exemplar of the way this ought to be done and the way that we would believe central government in general ought to behave, and local government in general ought to behave, in pursuing their procurement policies.

  Q178  Justine Greening: You have already touched upon the fact that there are some quite substantial differences within the ethnic minorities brand, if you like, which mean really that it is, as I said, quite a blunt instrument, that you need to look beneath, there are problems with gender perhaps and also age. Going forward, what sorts of implications do you think that those quite big differences will have for the sorts of policies we need to have in place to tackle those groups?

  Ms Ariss: It is a very complicated picture. As you say, there are differences in the experiences in getting into work of ethnic minority women and ethnic minority men, between different groups of ethnic minority people, both women and men, there are differences between generations. We have found also, interestingly, that there are some quite big differences connected to place, and we are not entirely sure why those are there, but they are very interesting. We found, for example, that in Tameside about 20% of Bangladeshi women are economically active and in Croydon 51% of Bangladeshi women are economically active, and that is not because there is a huge difference in the age structure of the population of Bangladeshi women in those two places. That is a very big difference and you do not find a similar difference in the employment rates of white women; so there is something interesting going on about place.

  Q179  Justine Greening: Is there any evidence behind that, whether it is to do with job opportunities or whether it is attitudinal, and perhaps those communities are happier for women to work; perhaps that is a stereotype?

  Ms Ariss: We do not know. It is a fairly new finding, that there seem to be big differences in employment rates between otherwise similar groups of ethnic minority women in different parts of the country. I think probably what it says is that there needs to be some quite clever work done by people like local authorities and Regional Development Agencies to look at what is really going on in their particular area, because the national picture may conceal as much as it reveals. If it is radically different from what is going on in their area then the national figures are not going to be very helpful, in terms of developing a strategy. Really some more work needs to be done to get underneath why those differences are there.

  Mr Christie: We have no more idea than EOC has in this area, but again it just seems to me that this again talks to the need for engaging with the community and developing responses to their needs, because the communities are different and they will require tailored responses. If we do not have systems in place which will allow us to engage with those communities at that level, to give them the opportunity to be part of the policy-making solution, then probably we have a problem.


 
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