Companies could face ethnic minority employment quotas in contracts.
A member of the taskforce set up to monitor ethnic minority representation in construction has called for quotas to ensure that contractors and consultants employ more black and Asian people.

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’

Chris Shokoya

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.