Permanent Secretaries: Diversity

Oral Answers to Questions — Cabinet Office – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 15th June 2016.

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Photo of Vicky Foxcroft Vicky Foxcroft Opposition Whip (Commons) 12:00 am, 15th June 2016

What recent assessment he has made of diversity among permanent secretaries in the civil service.

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Minister for Government Policy

I am afraid that following an outstanding permanent secretary’s move from Whitehall to become chief executive of Ofcom there are no permanent secretaries from BAME communities at present. However, 20% of permanent secretaries are women, which is higher than the figure for 2010 of 17.5% and much higher than the figure for 2005 of 8%, but clearly it is still considerably too low and we have a great deal more work to do to make sure we are drawing on a talent pool that reflects the nation as a whole.

Photo of Vicky Foxcroft Vicky Foxcroft Opposition Whip (Commons)

In 2011, for the first time, 50% of permanent secretaries were female. Since then, and since the Prime Minister took control, the glass ceiling has been painstakingly reassembled. If he cannot be trusted to appoint women, is it not about time we introduced some positive discrimination?

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Minister for Government Policy

The hon. Lady refers to a brief moment during which, because of appointments already in place and new appointments being made, there was a spike, and we would very much like to see that replicated on a long-term basis. We have appointed a range of women permanent secretaries in the past few months, and I am glad to be able to tell the hon. Lady that we are doing a great deal to ensure that the pool from which we draw the permanent secretaries—directors general—is improving significantly, in that 37% of our directors general are women. We are seeking to move that further forward, and we need to see this happening throughout the senior civil service.

Photo of Sue Hayman Sue Hayman Opposition Whip (Commons)

According to Leonard Cheshire Disability, only 4.5% of senior civil servants are disabled. What are the Government doing to ensure that disability is not impeding disabled people in the civil service from reaching the highest levels? Will the Minister review the Government’s policies and keep the House updated on his efforts to improve the employment prospects of disabled people in the civil service?

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Minister for Government Policy

The hon. Lady is right. As a matter of fact, the situation is even slightly worse than she suggests. The percentage of disabled senior civil servants—or, at any rate, of senior civil servants who have registered themselves as disabled in staff surveys—is only 3.4%. That is much too low, and it reflects the fact that we have not yet been able to remove all the barriers that we need to remove. I am sitting next to the Minister without Portfolio, my right hon. Friend Robert Halfon, who has shown that it is perfectly possible for someone who suffers from a significant disability to reach the highest level in politics, but we need that to be true throughout our public administration because we need to draw on talent from wherever it comes.

Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

As the Minister confirmed, since the Prime Minister gave himself the power to appoint, 80% of permanent secretaries are men. In the spirit of open government, will the Minister commit to publish the shortlists from which the Prime Minister has made appointments?

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Minister for Government Policy

I will go back and talk to colleagues about the methods by which we publish what happens under that procedure. I would like to point out to the Opposition spokesman—[Laughter.] I would like to point out to the Opposition spokesperson that we draw permanent secretaries from the pool of directors general. If we are to draw on that talent, we have to encourage more women to be directors general. As I have said, I am glad that the percentage of women directors general is now up to 37%. We would like to get up to 50% or beyond, and as we do so we will have the talent from which to draw into the permanent secretary ranks, which is obviously where we want women of talent to end up.