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Labour's One Nation Plan to Bust Open Whitehall

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Labour's guiding mission under Ed Miliband is to be a One Nation government. We want to create a country where prosperity is equally shared and opportunities are not confined to particular regions, races or genders.

David Cameron once sought to be a One Nation Prime Minister, but an economic policy which serves only the privileged few put pay to that. Last week we saw the gulf between out-of-touch Ministers claiming families are better off when, in fact, they are almost £1,000 worse off due to this government's tax and benefit changes and £1,600 a year worse off in lower wages. Regional inequalities are worsening, women are being hit hardest by policies designed by a cabinet with five times as many men as women and increasingly resembles a Britain from another era.

Labour's response has been a radical set of proposals, including a bank bonus tax to pay for a compulsory jobs guarantee to move people from benefits into work, reform of banking and energy markets to ensure they work for consumers and pushing power downwards away from Whitehall to local authorities and individuals.

In the same way that we want to burst the Westminster bubble to disperse power, we also want to bust open up the Whitehall machine. Too often those making key decisions at the heart of government don't look enough like those on whom their decisions impact.

Today ethnic minority employees are under-represented across Whitehall. Over the three years before last the election Labour increased ethnic minority civil service representation by 11%, but under the Tory-Lib Dem coalition this progress has been almost completely wiped out, falling by almost 10% since 2010. Today only 9.6% of the entire civil service is from an ethnic minority and only 4.7% of the senior civil service.

When Labour left office 43% of Cabinet Office senior civil service staff were women - not enough, but we were making progress. Since the election, however, the number of women holding senior civil service posts has fallen by a whopping 9%. Women hold two thirds of the lowest paid jobs but just one in four of the highest paid civil servants are women.

Despite the progress under the last Government, the civil service is still too white, too male and too London-centric: 36% of all civil servants are either based in London, the South East or the South West; only 7% of all civil servants are based in the North East and 12% in the North West.

In the Fast Stream, the programme to develop future civil service leaders, there is a significantly lower proportion of successful applicants from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds compared to the eligible graduate pool.

It is a similar picture in relation to socio-economic status, with those with parents from manual backgrounds being less represented than those from middle-tier occupational backgrounds, who are less represented than those from higher managerial backgrounds. Kids from working class backgrounds are less likely to apply to the Fast Stream, while the numbers of Oxbridge candidates recommended for appointment is on the rise.

The Tories' and Lib Dems' hands off approach means the civil service looks like the last closed shop, based on an institutional elitism which excludes many exceptional individuals with ordinary backgrounds. For those who already feel that the levers of power are distant and remote from their lives the civil service is a closed circle - out of reach and out of touch.

Labour will revamp the Fast Stream to ensure it proactively reaches out to those with a more diverse set of backgrounds.

In government Labour would introduce new targets for the number of successful BAME and working class candidates entering the fast stream programme, reflective of the proportion of national graduates from those backgrounds, which would lead to hundreds more candidates over the course of a Parliament. We would also expand internship programmes for those with diverse backgrounds and introduce a fast-track on to the Fast Stream for those who have completed an internship programme. The under-representation of senior women must also be addressed and will be an issue we will work jointly on as we design our agenda for government.

We know, however, that any reform aimed at increasing the representativeness of the civil service must sit as part of a wider agenda which breaks the link between economic status and educational attainment, so background does not define destiny. This means a focus on social mobility, young people's opportunities and excellence in education and training.

Labour wants a politics based on inclusivity and innovation, driven by openness and debate. That is why we have reformed our Party to strengthen our link with working people and broaden our base of candidates. These reforms to the civil service are from the same mould - seeking a One Nation politics with equality of opportunity for everyone at its heart.

Growing up in working class areas, as both of us did, we saw lots of bright kids that background who never really had a fair chance. It's time we did something about that - and we can start with the civil service.

Michael Dugher is the shadow minister for the Cabinet Office and MP for Barnsley East
Gloria De Piero MP is the shadow minister for women and equalities and MP for Ashfield

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