Not a single person of Black Caribbean origin has won a place on a prestigious graduate scheme for Whitehall civil servants – despite a record number of applicants.
The latest annual report on the Civil Service Fast Stream, which aims to recruit future leaders of Government departments, reveals that 339 individuals with Caribbean heritage applied in 2016, nearly double the previous year.
Yet none of the applicants managed to secure a place, the first time in five years there was no representation from that ethnic group in the cohort.
The Government is already under fire over the Windrush scandal and Labour’s Shadow Equalities Minister Dawn Butler said that the figures suggested “a deep-rooted racial bias” in the system.
“With some of these graduate applicants likely to be the grandchildren of the Windrush generation, it’s yet another devastating blow to the community,” she said.
The civil service union, the First Division Association, said that the “shocking figures” – which follow revelations that privately-educated graduates are increasing their success rate on the scheme - proved that much more is needed to be done to recruit from minority ethnic communities.
Senior civil servants admit there is an historic problem in getting candidates from Black Caribbean backgrounds into the scheme, which the government has tended to blame on problems in the education system.
The 2016 figures, the most recent available in the annual report, suggest that the grandchildren of the Windrush generation are finding it even harder than in previous years to get into the programme.
Figures for Black Caribbean applicants to the Civil Service Fast Stream
The success rate for Black Caribbean applicants over the period 2010-16 is a tiny 0.64%.
In contrast, the success rate of White British applicants was about 4.3% in 2016 - with 903 out of 20,536 white applicants succeeding - suggesting they are six times more likely to win a place.
Thirteen candidates from Black African backgrounds got onto the highly competitive scheme, though with 1,693 applicants that’s a success rate of just 0.7%.
Shadow Equalities Minister Butler said: “These figures are shocking.
“For not a single Black Caribbean applicant to make it for the first time in five years, in a year that saw the highest number of applications from this group, shows we are going backwards and suggests a deep rooted racial bias in the process that must be tackled immediately.
“It proves what I have always said – Black, Asian and minority ethnic people face multiple layers of disadvantage in society and have to jump over additional hurdles and be spectacular in order to succeed in life.
“The Civil Service must explain these figures and the steps they are taking to tackle it as it suggests unconscious bias training may be necessary.”
She added: “For this to happen in Theresa May’s first year as Prime Minister is a telling sign; far from tackling the burning injustices in society, Theresa May cannot even sort out the problems in her own backyard.”
Tottenham MP David Lammy added: “Yet again these figures show what Black Britons know to be true – there are still so many rivers to cross when it comes to Black Britons breaking into the establishment”
One senior Whitehall insider told HuffPost UK: “This is not about box-ticking - this is about effective government. The fact is that most senior officials see things from the point of view of an affluent, white, Oxbridge, Home Counties type.
“There is no doubt that if there were more people from a Black British background in senior jobs then Windrush would not have happened. But if you don’t know anybody from that kind of background, you just don’t have the kind of perspective that help you avoid such hideous errors.
“Whitehall needs to realise that its recruitment practices are massively-flawed and designed purely to reproduce the same kind of thinking time and time again.”
Steven Littlewood, the FDA union’s Fast Stream National Officer, said: “As the independent Bridge Report showed in 2016, social mobility and diversity remain key challenges for the Fast Stream, the highly regarded civil service graduate entry scheme.
“We do not doubt the commitment of the Cabinet Office to address these issues and some positive steps have already been taken, including working with the FDA on university outreach programmes aimed at underrepresented groups.
“These shocking figures, however, clearly demonstrate much more needs to be done if the civil service is to be truly representative, at every level, of the public it serves.”
Overall, the number of minority ethnic graduate placements has increased, thanks to better representation of groups other than the Black Caribbean community.
The Fast Stream offers two internship programmes that are exclusively for students from ethnic minority background, lower socio-economic background and disabled groups.
There is also a one week Early Diversity Internship Programme (EDIP) aimed at first year undergraduates and a six to nine week Summer Diversity Internship Programme (SDIP) targeted at penultimate and final year undergraduates.
A Cabinet Office spokesperson said steps were being take to tackle the problem with schemes targeted at schools as well as universities.
“This Government believes in a country which works for everyone, which is why we have invested in making the Fast Stream and the Fast Track Apprenticeship Programme more accessible, inclusive and appealing to candidates from all backgrounds over the past two years.
The spokesperson added: “But there is always more we can do, which is why our recently released Civil Service Diversity and Inclusion Strategy sets out how we intend to become the most inclusive employer in the UK by 2020.”
The Government’s strategy says it is building a dedicated programme to improve the representation of ethnic minority staff at the most senior levels across the Civil Service and creating a Diverse Leadership Task Force that will report to the Cabinet Secretary.
Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood, in his foreword to the annual report, stated that he wanted the Civil Service “to be a powerful engine for social mobility, promoting opportunity and aspiration for all”.
“Whoever you are, whatever your background, we need talented people to lead the future Civil Service,” he said.
Yet he admitted that a study by The Bridge Group consultants in 2016 had shown that the Fast Stream “was still not fully representative of the population – it is less diverse, for example, than the student population of the University of Oxford”.
To tackle the issue, Whitehall is also publishing a data dashboard tracking progress on diversity and inclusion targets, establishing a new framework for measuring inclusion and “embedding diversity and inclusion” in Single Departmental Plans for each Whitehall department.
In response to the Bridge Group report, the civil service has expanded outreach to cover universities with strong diversity representation, offered better incentives for interns to apply, shortened the length of the assessment process to under 12 weeks, and opened regional assessment centres.