Chris Shokoya, managing director of Shokoya-Eleshin Construction in Liverpool, said project contracts should include a clause stipulating that a specific percentage of ethnic minority staff should be employed.
The taskforce, called Change the Face of Construction, is a central plank of construction minister Nick Raynsford’s Respect For People initiative. It is chaired by John Hobson, head of the DETR's Construction Directorate, and has received £50 000 of government funding.
Shokoya said: “I think the initiative is well intentioned. The taskforce is searching for a solution. But you need to package it in a way that guides contractors. You have to say: ‘Here is a £9m contract and here is what you have to do to get it.’”
Shokoya’s company has a turnover of £1.4m and employs 40 people from the inner-city Toxteth area.
Geoffrey Irvine, managing director of 700-strong brickwork specialist Irvine Whitlock, said he was against quotas, even though a large percentage of its staff at all levels are from ethnic minorities.
Irvine said: “The only policy we have is that we do not have a policy. It is simply: ‘Can you do the work?’ I think you have to be careful with quotas. They are difficult to enforce and you always run the danger of diluting quality.”
You have to say: ‘Here is a £9m contract and here is what you have to do to get it’
His views were echoed by Stanhope director Peter Rogers. He said: “We already run checks on our projects to monitor local employment and ethnic employment. I would be nervous about quotas because people will fiddle the figures. Saying employers should employ x amount of people really isn’t practical.”
The taskforce intends to establish a mentoring programme for ethnic minorities with a number of contractors and consultants in the next six months.
Construction Industry Board chief executive Don Ward, a member of the taskforce, said: “We are looking to have 50 construction companies on board. Certainly, we would want a Laing and a Bovis on board by that time.”
A spokesperson for Bovis said it supported the aims of the taskforce. He said: “At the moment, we have a strong graduate intake of women in project management positions. But the industry appears to lack role models for these groups. We do have a modest proportion of ethnic minority staff working at project level and in support roles.”
The taskforce hit the headlines last year when it cancelled a seminar on minorities in construction because of a lack of funding from industry.