Liz Truss has been accused of planning to put the fight for racial and gender equality in Whitehall “back 30 years” under a shock plan to axe anti-discrimination roles.
The Tory leadership race favourite is under fire over a civil service shake-up that would also embrace US-style “political appointees” in top roles – undermining effective government, it is claimed.
The 2020 plan, which remains her blueprint the Truss camp says, is designed to sweep away a “liberal groupthink” by scrapping diversity and inclusion teams charged with creating a “modern workplace”.
They help ensure the civil service does not discriminate on grounds of race, gender, disability, social mobility, faith, or age, following the passing of the landmark 2010 Equality Act.
Dr Halima Begum, chief executive of The Runnymede Trust think tank, described the plans as “most worrying”, saying: “It indicates a continuing de-prioritisation of racial and other forms of equality.”
“Minority groups continue to experience starkly disproportionate outcomes and we would expect the holders of high political office to lead on diversity and inclusion – to stand as an example for the rest of the country.
Jabeer Butt, chief executive of the Race Equality Foundation, said: “This appears to make a mockery of the government’s own recently published Inclusive Britain report, which highlights a fund to prosecute organisations who fail to tackle racial discrimination and break equality law.”
And Anneliese Dodds, Labour’s shadow equalities secretary, said: “Liz Truss has no answers to the challenges the country faces, just soundbites to please the Tory base.
“She needs to come clean about whether she wanted to take the civil service back thirty years by getting rid of the people who promote diversity and inclusion across the service.”
Tory-supporting newspapers have been briefed that the leaked document accurately captured the foreign secretary’s plans for “tough reforms” if she wins the race for No 10.
“As prime minister, Liz will not be captured by the Whitehall and Treasury orthodoxy,” a source said, adding: “She’s absolutely the person who will get things done and challenge civil service groupthink.”
The Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) warned of “more conflict and employment relations problems, as well as potential legal risks and costs”.
Ben Willmott, its head of public policy, said: “A strong focus on equality, inclusion and diversity is key to organisations’ ability to recruit and retain a more diverse workforce at a time when there is increasing competition for talent.”
Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA civil servants’ union, condemned the “ideological dogma” behind more political appointees which would mean the loss of “the best evidence-based advice available”.
“Imagine how the events of the last few weeks would have played out if the entire senior team surrounding ministers had to change with every ministerial resignation,” he said.
“Whilst ministers were indulging their own political ambitions, permanent civil servants were concentrating on delivering vital public services.”
The 2020 submission also called for private lawyers to be brought in to challenge the civil service’s “highly risk averse” legal team.
Last month, it emerged that the government’s top legal adviser had warned the plan to tear up the Northern Ireland Protocol is likely to breach international law – while ministers insisted it would not.