The taskforce is one of the central planks in construction minister Nick Raynsford's Respect for People initiative. It is chaired by John Hobson, head of the DETR's construction directorate. Its members include Construction Industry Council chief executive Graham Watts, and Construction Industry Board chief executive Don Ward.
The DETR has committed £50 000 towards the cost of the group, named Change the Face of Construction. However, industry groups involved in the taskforce have failed to provide funding. A conference on ethnic minorities and women in construction, due to be held this month, has been postponed because there is no money for it.
The conference has been put on hold until next year and sources close to the taskforce said the entire initiative would collapse unless the industry took equal opportunities more seriously.
Change the Face of Construction project leader Sandi Rhys Jones said: "There is still a lot of persuasion necessary to convey the need for construction to change. There is a very modest amount of funding required to keep the programme running. But there is an issue of industry commitment to provide money."
She added: "I understand there is a compelling argument being put to the CIB to raise money from the industry to keep the programme running, and we're hopeful it will be viewed favourably by the CIB executive.
"A lot of people from the industry have put in a tremendous amount of effort, but there is still a number of people who do not take the issue of equal opportunities seriously. We need more leadership and support from the industry."
The CIB is due to meet to discuss the funding of the programme on 23 November. Rhys Jones declined to say how much money was required, but it is understood to be less than £50 000.
The CIB and CIC were not available for comment.
One source said the cancellation of the conference identified an abyss between government policy and industry willingness to take issues such as race on board.
The source added: "It all makes 'respect for people' sound a bit hollow. At the moment the industry isn't even paying lip service to equal opportunities, let alone taking it seriously."
A DETR spokesperson denied that the postponement of the conference was a reverse for Respect for People: "We fully support Change the Face of Construction and Respect for People. We've provided funding for the initiative; you need to speak to the CIB about its funding."