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‘Common sense’ minister’s plan to ban diversity jobs could see more legal claims

The Government’s plan to ban diversity jobs could see it face more legal claims as civil servants accuse ministers of covering up equality failures.

Esther McVey, the Cabinet Office minister, has claimed that Whitehall managers are becoming distracted by costly “woke hobby horses” rather than delivering their core functions ahead of plans to scrap Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) roles across Whitehall.

But a trade union representing professionals and managers in public services has warned that the move could see the Government spending more money defending itself against employment disputes in the future.

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 i. “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.”

The FDA’s warning comes after Birmingham City Council declared itself effectively bankrupt in 2023 following a £1bn settlement for equal pay claims brought by underpaid workers.

In March, the Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch commissioned a report which found that most of the money spent on EDI was wasted. The report called on bosses to take into account disadvantages faced by the white working classes when shaping diversity schemes, rather than focusing on “visible” quotas.

In recent months, civil servants have been locked in meeting with Cabinet ministers in an effort to establish the true undertaking of costs associated with the roles, but the Government has not been forthcoming with its findings.

The Cabinet Office is yet to release details of its audit of EDI roles which has asked more than 100 government departments and Civil Service agencies have been asked to confirm how many staff work on EDI and how that work supports government priorities as part of the review.

Ms Thirlby of the FDA said it was “nonsense” to claim public services don’t ensure there is accountability of spending, adding that the union has not received evidence of the level of spend caused by EDI roles.

“Yet again, the Government is attacking the equality, diversity and inclusion spend in the Civil Service,” she told i. “It’s become a convenient punch-bag for when it wants to demonstrate that it’s taking a tough stance, when in reality these changes could actually lead to more problems in the future.”

Writing in The Telegraph, Ms McVey said the amount of staff time devoted to diversity and inclusion schemes is a “major concern” and warned warn that the public sector must not become a “pointless job creation scheme for the politically correct”.

Ms McVey’s letter comes amid a wider government crackdown on wasteful diversity schemes, with Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor, using his Budget to urge councils to cut spending on such policies and Rishi Sunak appointing a “common-sense minister”.

But four serving and former senior civil servants have warned against the plans, accusing the Government of “dog-whistle gesture politics” to paper over cracks in its record on equality.

Professor Frances Tammer worked as a civil servant in the Ministry of Defence (MoD) for more than 40 years where she was an early champion of diversity and inclusion, setting up a group focused on gender equality in 2015.

Ms Tammer told i that the Government’s plans were “designed to divert attention from its lack of progress in these areas, both within the Civil Service and the country at large.”

She said: “The Government are using this as an excuse for not making enough progress in key areas of diversity and inclusion.

“More broadly, diversity and inclusion are not seen as core business by many in the workforce, so relegating it will mean even less likelihood of positive and meaningful progress and outcomes.”

The Government is expected to lay out plans to dissolve any jobs in Whitehall devoted to diversity during an announcement this week. Under the plans, managers will be forbidden from hiring third-party DEI contractors, and officials whose jobs are currently focused solely on diversity will be transferred into human resources teams and given broader remits.

A second former senior civil servant, speaking to i on condition of anonymity, said the Government needs a “clear alternative plan” if its to scrap EDI roles altogether or else it risks failing the public.

“The Civil Service has underrepresentation of ethics minorities and, whilst overall gender balance looks great, the breakdown by seniority shows a shortage of women in senior roles,” they told i. “Now EDI roles aren’t the only way to address this but it needs a clear alternative plan or it just sends the wrong message to the workforce for what looks like some red meat to the “anti-woke” side of the party.”

A third civil servant, speaking anonymously, said the plans were “dog-whistle gesture politics”.

They told i: “This is an initiative driven by the Government’s belief that the culture wars and the so-called war on woke appeals to the electorate and almost nothing to do with the merits or otherwise of diversity and inclusion training or the cost savings that might be made.”

A fourth senior civil servant blasted Ms McVey’s comments as “a ludicrous piece of theatre”, adding that EDI is “important for the wellbeing” of employees.

“You only have to look at the number of permanent secretaries and director generals from minority groups to see the Civil Service still has some way to go,” they told i . “Even taking the moral and effectiveness argument to one side, EDI roles are an infinitesimal number relative to Civil Service as a whole, so there is no meaningful cost saving to be had either.”

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