In a speech to the Chartered Institute of Housing conference at Harrogate last week, broadcaster and prospective mayoral candidate Trevor Phillips called on the corporation and mainstream housing associations to increase black and ethnic minority representation at senior level before legislation forced them to do so.
Phillips said: “The employment figure [of black and Asian staff] for the corporation is 12% – good but not so good when you consider that most of them are concentrated at the bottom of the seniority pyramid.
“We also know that in the 2000 or so mainstream [housing] organisations, there are two black chief officers and two black chairs.”
Phillips called for black and ethnic minorities employed by the corporation and housing associations to be monitored to see how many advanced to senior positions.
Phillips said that changes to the Race Relations Act, announced by government in the wake of the Macpherson Inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence, would enable the Commission for Racial Equality to scrutinise and report on the practices of the corporation and housing associations, and could lead to them being issued with non-discrimination notices.
These notices are issued by the CRE to companies it believes are guilty of discriminating against ethnic minorities and often leads to those companies being taken to court.
A spokesman for the Housing Corporation rejected Phillips’ comments and said that the corporation’s chief executive, Anthony Mayer, had already highlighted the problem of representation in the workforce earlier in the year.
In 2000 organisations, there are two black chief officers and two black chairs
The spokesman said: “Mr Phillips is not a housing expert. He also forgot to point out that the Housing Corporation is alone among similar institutions in Europe and America in providing money to establish black and ethnic minority housing associations.”
He added: “We don’t have enough black staff in the Housing Corporation, but we have given out over £750m to black and ethnic minority housing associations over the last 13 years.
“We are doing all we can to address the issue within the corporation, but our resources are being reduced and our staff levels are being cut.”
A spokesman for Phillips said: “Talking about the issue is not sufficient, and what Trevor is saying is that action is needed. The Housing Corporation should ensure the diversity of British life is reflected in its key personnel.”
The spokesman added that Phillips’ speech had commended the efforts of the corporation in launching the Black Ethnic Minority Housing Policy as a vehicle to increase black involvement in mainstream housing associations.
However, he said: “The first step is to recognise that there is a deep problem of institutional racism in society and we have to do something about that.”