Civil service EDI jobs, spending and networks to be culled

by 24britishtvMay 13, 2024, 6:20 p.m. 33

There will be no more standalone civil service EDI jobs outside HR and external spending on equality, diversity and inclusion will require government sign-off, Esther McVey has announced.

The minister for “common sense” said money is being wasted on “woke hobby horses” and wants to ensure that EDI activities benefit the public and do not become “pointless job creation schemes for the politically correct”.

She also said the government will take aim at employee networks, the wearing of diversity-themed lanyards in the civil service, and “unnecessary” statements in job adverts.

McVey announced the plans in a speech this morning at the Centre for Policy Studies. She said: “There will be no more contracts for external diversity spending as soon as this guidance is made live unless signed off by a government minister.

“That includes any agencies with current contracts, including Stonewall. And to make sure that does not inadvertently lead to an increase in internal EDI activity, secretaries of state and permanent secretaries will take responsibility for that within their departments.”

New impartiality guidance is being published to ensure that the civil service focuses on delivering for the public. It follows the review of EDI spending across government announced by chancellor Jeremy Hunt in October 2023.

Yet to be published, the review audited the number of staff working on EDI and asked departments to account for how their work supports government’s priorities.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph yesterday, McVey said there will be no more spending on campaign organisations or unproven programmes delivered by external “experts”.

“In the future, we will have accountability and transparency, focusing on delivering opportunity for all, not political ideology…” she wrote. “In future there will be no more dedicated (or standalone) EDI jobs in the civil service outside of HR. No more staff dedicating 100% of their time to EDI work.

“All EDI roles within the civil service will be consolidated into their department’s HR teams, and ministers and their permanent secretaries will ensure that these teams are focused on their statutory obligations around EDI – the things we are legally required to do which have a proven benefit, not unproven diversity work which has no basis in law.”

Speaking this morning the minister without portfolio said: “We will also be taking aim at staff networks too… Many may have started with good intentions, but some have moved to a place of political and religious activism, and such networks have no place in the civil service and will be closed down.”

She cited the recent suspension of a civil service Muslim network over antisemitism after alarms were raised both internally and in the press, adding that the individuals involved are now subject to a disciplinary investigation.

“Civil servants should not be distracted by issues unrelated to their ultimate role… Networks that were meant to be about inclusivity too often in fact brought division and upset into the working environment,” she said.

“We want work to be a happy, inclusive place, not one where division can be sown and people can feel pressured. I want a very simple but visible change to occur too. The lanyards worn to carry security passes shouldn’t be a random pick and mix; they should be a standard design reflecting that we are all members of the government delivering for the citizens of the UK.

“Working in the civil service is all about leaving your political views at the building entrance. Trying to introduce them by the backdoor via lanyards should not happen.”

Diversity statements in job adverts also came under fire from the Cabinet Office minister. “After all the important information like responsibilities, pay and application details, there often appears large, chunky, unnecessary text outlining what appears to be irrelevant information distracting from the job application and off-putting too many from applying. Those unnecessary additions will all be removed,” McVey said.

“As for those councils and council leaders who think you can work four days but can be paid for five – the Lib-Dem-run South Cambridgeshire, we won’t stand for that either, and have been clear through our guidance and engagement that these working arrangements do not deliver value for taxpayers and such activities should cease immediately.

“Today is the beginning of the full-throttle common sense fightback, where the beliefs and the concerns of the ordinary person in the street will be solidified in the heart of government.”

She estimated that the equivalent of 400 FTEs spend time on EDI in the civil service, saying: “Anybody whose sole role is in EDI, you’ll be moved into HR and it will be focused on what we statutorily have to do.”

Lucille Thirlby, assistant general secretary of the FDA union, said EDI had become a “convenient punch-bag” for the government and warned against the removal of vital diversity roles within public services.

“Equality outcomes matter, and employers need specialist knowledge as do organisations providing public services,” she told the i newspaper. “Otherwise the government could find itself spending a lot more money defending employment tribunals for discrimination or judicial reviews on the lack of public service provision.”

In 2022, when campaigning to be the next prime minister, Liz Truss pledged to scrap around 350 Whitehall EDI jobs, saying they “distract from delivering on the British people’s priorities”.

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