• July
  • 23rd
  • 2009

Social mobility revisited

I have read with interest about Alan Milburn MP’s social mobility report published this week (there is a video of Alan talking about his report at the bottom of this post).  For me, tackling outstanding inequalities and the lack of social mobility is a priority. Reading the reports and comment on this topic this week reminded me of an article I wrote for the Financial Times in August 2006, which I have reproduced below, for those who would like to revisit it:

The City has dramatically changed over the past two decades. The nostalgic image of the bowler-hatted gentleman sauntering to work is long gone. In its place reigns the slick-suited, BlackBerry-carrying guy or girl shouting across a crowded dealing room. However, there is one constant – the City is still overwhelmingly white.

Mention ethnic diversity in a City conference room and the ensuing awkward silence conveys a clear message: everyone knows it is an issue but no one wants to do anything about it. Some even deny it is an issue at all, with one senior partner of a City law firm reportedly claiming not to know the meaning of the term “diversity”.

Those of us who have worked in the City see few faces of colour in the glass palaces that populate the square mile, particularly in front office and senior roles. The facts are stark. Just 2.5 per cent of FTSE 100 board members are from ethnic minorities, according to Cranfield School of Management, and there is one non-white chief executive, Arun Sarin at Vodafone (an import from the US). Fewer than 3 per cent and 4 per cent respectively of the partners of most prestigious City law and accountancy firms are drawn from a non-white background, according to Legal Week and Accountancy Age. The investment banks cleverly give percentages based on global headcount rather than a City office breakdown – I wonder why? When one considers that almost one in three Londoners is from a non-white background, the figures are quite shocking.

“But there is a dearth of suitable candidates,” is the cry of City personnel departments. This argument does not hold up in 2006. Record numbers of ethnic minority students are entering higher education and they are more likely to go to university than their white counterparts. More of them are entering the professions than ever before, so why do disparities remain in the City? A recruitment agency, Talent! Recruitment, which specialises in hiring diverse workforces, was recently asked by a City accountancy outfit to find candidates for certain roles. Talent found diverse candidates with excellent degrees and from the “preferred” universities. The candidates were rejected on the grounds that they lacked “polish”. Herein lies the problem: culture and class.

It seems that senior managers are doomed to recruit in their own image. Above and beyond the required qualifications and skills, they look to recruit candidates they could have “a drink and a laugh” with and with whom they would feel comfortable working under severe pressure. Many of these mostly white, upper-middle class, middle-aged men have little experience of forging close relationships with people from another class, let alone from an ethnic minority.

The wine bar and the pub are the after-work venues of choice which, for example, excludes whole swaths of Muslim employees. Golf is often the corporate entertainment activity of choice – how many black people, other than wealthy footballers and Tiger Woods, does one see on a golf course?

Class determines access to the networks and mentors that provide careers advice and arrange work experience, which are important factors in helping young people choose their careers. More important, it determines which university you attend. African and Caribbean children who are largely drawn from the lower socioeconomic classes will gravitate towards universities close to their family home, primarily for financial reasons, rather than to the “preferred” universities. This means that City employers, who tend to focus resources on recruiting from the Russell Group of top universities, fail to reach these candidates.

So what is to be done? City recruiters who are serious about addressing ethnic diversity in the workplace must widen the pool of universities they focus on and they need to work with London’s ethnic minorities to improve access to work-experience programmes for youngsters. However, all of this will come to nothing if culture and class continue to be obstacles.

Those who buy the City’s services should use their purchasing power to force change. Barclays recently demanded diversity statistics from every City law firm it uses. There is evidence that this practice, which has been used in the US for some time, is beginning to spread but it is not enough. Action is needed from one of the biggest procurers of City services: the government.

If we are serious about building greater equality in Britain, we must tackle the rampant inequality in the City. In today’s world, money and power are inextricably linked. If ethnic minorities fail to progress in the City, their power and influence will continue to be compromised. In purchasing City services such as pension fund management, the government should invite tenders only from City businesses that publish diversity figures – that would be a start.

The next step would be to consider rejecting tenders from City businesses with workforces that do not reflect the society the government serves. The law may need to change to allow this, but it would certainly concentrate minds.

Update: The Labour government’s Equality Bill, due to receive royal assent in 2010, will make it clear that public bodies will be able to use procurement to drive equality. It will enable Ministers to set out how public bodies should go about doing so.  With an annual expenditure of around £175 billion every year on goods and services – about 13% of GDP – the public sector will soon be able to use its purchasing power to promote equality thanks to the Bill.


  • July
  • 19th
  • 2009

VIDEO: Chuka talks culture with Tessa Jowell MP and Cllr Rachel Heywood

Chuka, Cabinet Minister Tessa Jowell MP, and Cllr Rachel Heywood, Lambeth’s Cabinet Member for Culture, talk about culture and the Olympics at the Lambeth Country Show.

  • July
  • 15th
  • 2009

Meet the Market

Chuka with Levi Roots and Mayor Chris Wellbelove

Chuka attended the ‘Meet the Market’ event this week, organised by the Friends of Brixton Market.

The event showcased Lambeth’s greatest market, the challenges it faces and the exciting new possibilities and projects that could see it thrive in the future. Attendees sampled the market’s finest produce including Nigerian snacks, Colombian delicacies, organic wine, rave-reviewed Neapolitan pizzas and

Also in attendance was local celebrity supporter, musician and entrepreneur Levi Roots.

Friends of Brixton Market is a voluntary, not-for-profit group for customers, residents and supporters of Brixton Market, who are working to protect the market and ensure it continues to thrive.

  • July
  • 14th
  • 2009

Chuka joins Oona and Sadiq to talk representation

Chuka spoke last week at a parliamentary reception arranged by Sadiq Khan, MP for neighbouring Tooting, aimed at aimed at getting the Tooting Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) community more involved in politics.

  • July
  • 12th
  • 2009

Labour’s next generation campaigning in Streatham

London Young Labour activists joined Chuka campaigning in the Streatham constituency this weekend, despite the dodgy weather!


  • July
  • 8th
  • 2009

Chuka launches Streatham tube campaign

Tube to Streatham?This week, Chuka launches a campaign to bring the tube to Streatham. He and local campaigners are calling on Mayor Boris Johnson to ensure that Streatham is considered in any future plans to extend the tube southwards, and an online petition has been set up for supporters of the campaign.

In February, Mayor Johnson stated that it is his ambition to extend the Bakerloo line southwards to Lewisham and beyond. Last week we obtained confirmation that TfL is working on these plans, looking into the feasibility of such a scheme.

Chuka is demanding to know why Streatham is not being considered for any possible southwards extension of the tube when Lewisham, for example, is already well-served by the Docklands Light Railway extension which opened in 1999.

The Bakerloo line could instead be extended southwards from Elephant & Castle via Camberwell and Brixton to Streatham. This would have the added benefit of relieving congestion on Streatham High Road.

However, The Bakerloo line is only one of the options available for bringing the tube to Streatham. The planned Crossrail 2 scheme, running from Chelsea to Hackney, would considerably relieve congestion on the Victoria line, creating the potential for an extension of the Victoria line to Streatham from Brixton.

Commenting on the launch of the campaign, Chuka said:

“I have lived here for most of my life and people have been talking about the desirability of having the tube in Streatham for as long as I can remember.

“This campaign is a long term project. Public finances are going to be tight for the next few years but we need to build up a head of steam behind this now so that when there is more money about, we are in a good position to demand it is used to finally bring the tube here.

Streatham residents’ hopes of getting a tube extension have a long history of false starts and disappointment. In the original plans for the Victoria line included in the 1946 London Plan, it was intended that the line would run to Streatham and on to Croydon. This scheme even received approval in Parliament, but was never built because of a lack of finance.

Chuka said,

“Streatham has been ignored for far too long while other areas have benefited from better transport provision. It is bad enough that our direct Thameslink connections are under threat, but the fact that TfL is looking at extending the Bakerloo line without even considering our area as a station destination, is not on. We deserve better.”

“This area would benefit hugely from a tube station. As well as obvious
benefits for local residents, it would give a massive boost to the regeneration of Streatham and the local economy.

“We are going to work together to put pressure on TfL to consider Streatham a top priority for tube improvements in South London.”

You can sign up to the petition to bring the tube to Streatham here: Bring the tube to Streatham petition

  • July
  • 8th
  • 2009

Sarah Brown at the G20

Chuka and SarahSarah Brown, the Prime Minister’s wife, is blogging from the G20 summit currently being held in L’Aquila, Italy. She hopes to give a behind-the-scenes insight into the G8, and will be attending a number of events with the other world leaders’ spouses, including an audience with the Pope.

Check out her blog and twitter page.

  • July
  • 4th
  • 2009

Chuka and Keith at the Streatham Festival

The Streatham Festival is under way.  To lend their support and enjoy what it has to offer, Chuka and Streatham MP, Keith Hill, visited one of the events - the Streatham Artists Exhibition - yesterday.  The exhibition showcases some of the best art Streatham has to offer. More details about the Streatham Festival activities taking place over the next week are here: Streatham Festival.