Race in the Workplace: The McGregor-Smith Review - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:47 pm on 24th April 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Labour 5:47 pm, 24th April 2017

My Lords, I too rise to speak in the gap. I apologise for that, but I had not seen this debate on the Order Paper, and hope noble Lords will forgive me. I declare my interests in the register as chair of Drive. I also pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady McGregor-Smith, for her excellent report and her superb speech today.

Incidents of racism and continuing prejudice in our society and places of work are indeed appalling. As has been said, the title of the report is absolutely right: The Time for Talking is Over. Now is the Time to Act. In the 21st century, we have a duty to ensure that companies in the private sector, public sector and voluntary sector reflect the communities in which they work. However, the response from the Government to the excellent recommendations in the report is not as proactive as it should be. For example, I strongly support the call for legislation on the publishing of workforce data on race and payroll, as that would really shine a light on to what is happening in our society.

I will focus my brief comments today on recommendation 16, on the supply chain. When, according to the Hackett Group in 2015,

“On average supplier diversity programs add $3.6 million to the bottom line for every $1 million in procurement operation costs”,

it is difficult to understand why there has not been more action on this issue to date. Leading organisations have not only an opportunity but, I believe, a responsibility to develop the entrepreneurial capacity and self-reliance of all the diverse communities in which they operate and draw their talent from, and to the communities to which they sell. The report rightly says that the public sector must use its purchasing power to drive change and that the Government should ensure they drive behavioural change in the private sector. It makes practical recommendations to bring this about.

The government response is all about the public sector equality duty, which is part of Labour’s legacy and, yes, that is a useful tool, but it is not enough to bring about the real change that is necessary for diversity and for the economy. Basic equality standards and diversity are two different things. The Government should have endorsed each of the points within the supply chain recommendations. There is a wealth of innovative best practice out there, and I would draw the Government’s attention to some of the extraordinary initiatives taken by HS2 with its inclusive procurement programme, which embeds the use of electronic data interchange throughout the company and the supply chain. It includes board members having a diversity-related pay element. Collaborating and supporting the supply chain is making a huge difference to that company and could make a difference to so many more.

Finally, on a more general point, government, along with the public, private and voluntary sectors, could and should do a lot more work in schools—especially primary schools—to broaden the horizons of all pupils, from whatever social or ethnic background, so that they can all see the opportunities out there that they could and should pursue. They can see role models such as the noble Baroness, Lady McGregor-Smith, and my noble friends on these Benches. They need to see so many more role models so that they have the inspiration to develop their own aspirations, so let us go out there and act on this excellent report from the noble Baroness.