13 November 2003 | Mark Whitehead
The law could soon be used to force councils to ensure suppliers are promoting equal opportunities policies, race equality minister Fiona MacTaggart has warned.
She said "contract compliance", used in the US to check suppliers, was not yet being fully enforced in the UK.
But the Race Relations (Amendment) Act - brought in three years ago after the MacPherson report into the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence - provided the framework for doing so.
MacTaggart told the Society of Procurement Officers in Local Government (Sopo) annual conference last week that the act put a duty on local authorities to promote racial equality and good race relations, including in their procurement policies.
The Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) sent a guide to public bodies in the summer, explaining how to comply with the act.
Answering a question on contract compliance, MacTaggart said: "It's not as embedded as in the US, but this piece of legislation provides the framework to do exactly what you are asking for."
She said one local authority was already being investigated for failing to fulfil its race relations duties.
A spokesperson for the CRE said: "This is about ensuring public authorities deliver their services and employ staff in a way that does not discriminate on racial grounds. It's not about quotas."
John Scowen, corporate procurement manager at the London Borough of Havering and chairman of Sopo, welcomed MacTaggart's comments.
He told SM: "People should now be writing an equality and race relations policy into their contracts and testing their suppliers as to whether they have them in their own policies."
Local government minister Phil Hope told the conference purchasers could play a part in reducing council tax bills.
"Good procurement can create a double win of improved services and better value."