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Wednesday, June 23, 1999 Published at 15:28 GMT 16:28 UK

UK Politics

Labour race record attacked

The civil service: Cold-shouldering non-whites?

Moves to boost the numbers of people from ethnic minorities in positions of power have been dismissed as inadequate by a leading figure from the Islamic community.

At present black and Asian people make up 3.5% of the population, but account for just 1.7% of public appointments and 1.75% of senior managerial positions.

Cabinet ministers plus police and service chiefs, top civil servants and national newspaper editors have been discussing ways to reverse that trend at a one-day conference in London.

The event, organised by the Lord Chancellors Department Minister Keith Vaz, has also seen the unveiling of several initiatives aimed at increasing minority representation.

However, Ahmed Versi, the editor of Muslim News, said that the conference had actually illustrated that there was "lack of political will" to tackle the problem effectively.

He said that although there had been many speeches about the need to recruit more people from ethnic minorities, there had been few concrete promises of the sort of action he thought was needed to make major improvements.

Labour's record attacked

Mr Versi attacked the Labour Party, saying it had failed to select adequate numbers of Muslim candidates.

"It did not select any Muslims in the Scottish elections and selected only one Muslim in an unwinnable seat for the European elections," he said.

"How can the Muslim community take the government seriously when it claims that they are interested in having more Muslims in Parliament?

[ image: Mohammad Sarwar became the UK's first Muslim MP in 1997]
Mohammad Sarwar became the UK's first Muslim MP in 1997
"I believe to be influential you have to be in politics and to be elected you have to be selected as a candidate. So it is up to the parties and particularly the leaders to do it.

"The prime minister says many fine things. But there needs to be the political will to do it. How come the Tory Party managed to get a Muslim MEP - there was the political will.

"There is not one ambassador or high commissioner who is from the ethnic minorities. If Tony Blair wanted it to change it would."

Mr Versi also called for more ethnic minority recruits to the civil service to be fast-tracked to senior positions.

'Massive potential'

However, Mr Vaz, one of the first government ministers from an ethnic minority, said the conference represented a concerted effort to halt inequality.

[ image: Keith Vaz: Ethnic minorities must be offered full opportunities]
Keith Vaz: Ethnic minorities must be offered full opportunities
"It is clear that organisations in this country do not realise the massive potential of this country's ethnic minorities. It is not a question of political correctness, but of seeing that they are offered full opportunities," he said.

"I think it is fundamental to take measures to improve their level of representation and bring our black and Asian people into leadership."

Among the schemes announced was a "mentoring" programme to allow black and Asian employees to shadow their bosses and top executives - including the editor of The Sun, David Yelland.

Cabinet Office Minister Jack Cunningham also announced that government departments would be participating in the first ever civil service career fair aimed at ethnic minority applicants.

The fair will take place at Westminster Central Hall in London on 7 July.

'Less paper, more results'

Cabinet Secretary Sir Richard Wilson, the UK's top civil servant, told the conference that he was determined that this and other initiatives should bring real improvements in minority representation.

[ image: Forces chiefs say they are determined to stamp out racism in the ranks]
Forces chiefs say they are determined to stamp out racism in the ranks
"The equal opportunities agenda has led to huge amounts of paper over the last 10 years or so, and some improvement in our record.

"What we want to see now is less paper and more results, real visible results, based not on tokenism but on merit and on recognising talent wherever it is to be found," he said.

The UK's Chief of Defence Staff, General Sir Charles Guthrie, also reiterated the commitment of the armed forces to attract more recruits from ethnic minorities.

"Let there be no doubt - the services have now firmly gripped racial equality and diversity. We have no intention of letting go."

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