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Sir Albert’s front bench matches Cameron’s in the ‘white boys’ club’ stakes

Sir Albert’s front bench matches Cameron’s in the ‘white boys’ club’ stakes

🕔10.Feb 2014

David Cameron has been accused by Labour of running his government like an “old boys’ network”, preferring to promote chaps rather than the ladies to positions of power and influence.

And of course, Ed Miliband had a point when he cast a critical eye over Cameron’s front bench at Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons – not a woman in sight. As for ethnic minority representatives on the Conservative side of the Government, let’s not even go there.

Meanwhile, Chuka Umunna, the Shadow Business Secretary, is reportedly considering measures to impose quotas on FTSE 100 boards to ensure appropriate representation of women and ethnic minority directors.

With a General Election approaching, and since Mr Miliband and his colleagues have clearly got the bit between their teeth over the issue, let’s have a careful look at an area of government that is controlled by Labour to see whether promises of equality are delivered in practice.

And there can’t be a better place to cast an eye over than Birmingham City Council, by far Britain’s largest public body, which has been under Labour control for almost 20 months.

It’s a bit of a mixed picture, but one thing is clear. In a city where the population is quickly heading for majority-ethnic status, BME councillors and council officers are badly under-represented in senior positions. And women are hardly breaking through the glass ceiling in vast numbers either.

There are 76 Labour councillors. Fifty-one are men and 25 women. Out of the 76, there are 25 from a BME background, and eight of these are women. That equates to 67 per cent male, 33 per cent female, 33 per cent BME, 22 per cent male BME and 11 per cent female BME.

White male councillors enjoy a clear majority in the Labour group, but the domination is overwhelming at the very top tier of council governance.

Of the eight cabinet members, seven are men, leaving Children and Family Services member Brigid Jones the only woman representative. Only one cabinet member is from a BME background, Tahir Ali, who holds the Development, Jobs and Skills portfolio.

Out of the eight cabinet members, 87 per cent are men and 75 per cent are white male.

What makes the composition of the cabinet more interesting is that the membership is selected personally by council leader Sir Albert Bore. Therefore, nothing is left to the vagaries of voting for places around the top table. What you see is what Sir Albert wants.

Sir Albert, when taking over for the second time as council leader in June 2012, reacted to criticism of his mostly white-male cabinet in precisely the way that politicians always tend to respond when accused of being discriminatory, by stating that he had merely picked the best people for the job.

What it boils down to, inescapably, is that Sir Albert’s front bench looks almost as much of a boys’ club as Mr Cameron’s, which is a bit difficult if you are supposed to be promoting equality.

The council scrutiny committees are more equitably divided, with four women chairs and four male chairs. Three of the chairs are BME. These positions are voted for by Labour councillors.

Likewise, the District Committees, where positions are also voted for, line up fairly evenly. Of the seven committees that Labour controls, four have male chairs and three female chairs. Four of the chairs are BME but only one of these, Yvonne Mosquito, is a woman.

Five of the seven Regulatory Committee chairmen, appointed by Sir Albert, are men and two women. Two are BME, one man and one woman.

At the council officer level, following the latest reorganisation of departments, only one strategic director is female – Sharon Lea at the new Place directorate. The rest of the top management team – chief executive Mark Rogers, deputy chief executive Paul Dransfield and People strategic director Peter Hay – are white male.

The highest ranking BME officers are Waheed Nazir, now effectively heading up planning and regeneration, and Dr Mushuq Ally, the equalities and HR director.

Out of Birmingham’s eight Labour MPs, six are men and two are women.  Two MPs, Khalid Mahmood and Shabana Mahmood are BME.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives have no BME representation among their 28 councillors. Twenty-two are men and six are women. Ten Liberal Democrat councillors are men and five are women. Two Liberal Democrat councillors are BME.

The Labour leader scored a hit at last week’s PMQs, but Mr Miliband might look toward colleagues in his own party to show a lead. Perhaps an opportunity for Sir Albert after this year’s local elections to make sure he is not accused of having a ‘problem with women.’

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