UK Politics

Whitehall must improve diversity, National Audit Office says

A pedestrian walking past a sign on Whitehall, London Image copyright PA

The government needs to do more to improve diversity in the civil service as progress has recently slowed, the public spending watchdog has warned.

The National Audit Office (NAO) said women, ethnic minorities and disabled people were under-represented, with a particular issue at senior levels.

Its study also found that some people were leaving Whitehall because they found the culture "exclusive".

The government said diversity had improved but there was more to do.

The NAO study into equality, diversity and inclusion in the civil service found that "good progress" had been made over time but had "plateaued more recently".

It said the Cabinet Office's "Talent Action Plan" to prioritise diversity in the civil service "acknowledged that while recruitment statistics show a good mix of people from a range of backgrounds, at senior civil service level, white middle-class males still predominate".

'Less engaged'

The report found that about 53% of civil servants were women, with 38% of senior level jobs and six out of 17 departmental head posts held by females.

Minority ethnic representation increased from 4% to 10% between 1988 and 2014, but was below the figure for the total working population, it said. And the figure was lower in the senior civil service, at 7%.

Meanwhile, representation of people with disabilities had made initial progress, but remained low at 5%, the report said.

The study said female and minority ethnic respondents "feel significantly more engaged than their immediate peers at lower grades, but less so at senior grades".

Meanwhile, civil servants with long-term health conditions felt "less engaged" and are "more likely to feel discriminated against, bullied or harassed", it said.

'More work to do'

NAO head Amyas Morse said the civil service needed to reflect an "increasingly diverse society" and "embrace an inclusive approach" to its workforce.

This was particularly crucial at a time of "ongoing austerity" when Whitehall "will have to do more with less".

The watchdog boss also called for a greater focus by government departments on boosting the diversity of civil servant staff.

Responding to the report, a Cabinet Office spokesman said: "We have a world-class civil service which is much more diverse than in the past and more diverse than the majority of British employers, but we know there is lots more work to do."

The spokesman added that each government department had a diversity champion who would "hold our feet to the fire" in this area.