This Government's guiding principles are freedom, fairness and responsibility. We want to remove barriers to equal opportunities and to build a fairer society. The new public sector equality duty in the Equality Act 2010 will require councils to have regard to the need to advance equality of opportunity between different groups, including between men and women and people from different ethnic backgrounds.
I am grateful for the Minister's response. However, my figures show that there are 248 local authorities where women are not chief executives or leaders. In London, there is a black and minority ethnic population of 31% but only one chief executive officer from that community. Could he therefore confirm that he will encourage local authorities to use sections 158 and 159 of the Equality Act, now in force, to redress that imbalance?
I am very happy to give that assurance and to say, first, that her own local authority of Walsall has a good record in relation to the employment of BME staff. We need to recognise that local government has worked hard on this. The Improvement and Development Agency for Local Government has been working on it strongly. We had a conference in March-the Yes We Can conference-and are working towards a December follow-up. We need to remind local authorities that they have a duty under the Equality Act, but they also have a power to take positive action. I am certainly happy to work with the hon. Lady to achieve that.
Will my hon. Friend please confirm that offering salary packages to local government bureaucrats in excess of that earned by the Prime Minister will not form part of the strategy to recruit such people?
Absolutely. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has had some stern words to say about local authorities that do not take the hint and has called on those earning high salaries in the public sector to take a voluntary pay cut.