News Letter learns of £29,000 spending on ‘anti-bias’ training for civil servants
The sum covered training for roughly 12,500 employees, which began being carried out out from the end of 2016 onwards.
It started shortly after the Department of Finance (which effectively runs the civil service) passed from long-term DUP control into the hands of Sinn Fein’s Mairtin O Muilleoir.
The £29,000 figure has come to light despite efforts to block the release of the information by the department (now run by Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy).
The News Letter had asked for the cost earlier in the year, as well as which training providers were involved, and what the content of the course was.
The department stonewalled on all these requests on grounds of “commercial confidentiality”, and the Information Commissioner is currently looking into its efforts to keep the information hidden.
All the department had said was that 197 members of the senior civil service, and 12,311 staff in the lower ranks, completed the training.
It was mandatory for staff of Executive Officer II level upwards, although all other staff were encouraged to embark on the course too.
When the department refused to hand over more details to the News Letter, such as the cost of public spending on such training, TUV MLA Jim Allister asked for the same information in the form of a written Assembly question to Mr Murphy.
In response, his department has now replied to say £23,725 was spent on the training in 2017, and £4,979 in 2018.
He also told Mr Allister the training for senior civil servants was “classroom-based” and training for the lower ranks was done electronically.
The department also says there are currently no outside organisations involved in such training (but this does not mean they weren’t involved in 2016–18).
It is also still unclear what the training actually involved.
WHAT IS UNCONSCIOUS BIAS TRAINING?:
“Unconscious bias training” has become a hot topic recently, with some forms now banned in the US if they promote the idea that men or pale-skinned people are inherently oppressive or bigoted.
For example, the tyre firm Goodyear found itself in a PR storm earlier this year after training slides emerged in which the company instructed its employees which causes are “acceptable”.
It said that “Black Lives Matter” and “LGBT Pride” were considered “acceptable”, but that it had a “zero tolerance” approach to “unacceptable” terms like “All Lives Matter”, “Make America Great Again”, or “Blue Lives Matter” (the latter being a rallying cry for people who support police in the face of racism accusations).
Despite endorsing “Black Lives Matter” (a term heavily associated with ongoing riots in the USA, and whose founding members’ aim was to “disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure” and challenge “white capitalism”), Goodyear simultaneously said that any “political affiliated slogans” fell into the “unacceptable” camp.
Goodyear was later quoted as saying: “We do allow our associates to express their support on racial injustice and other equity issues but ask that they refrain from workplace expressions, verbal or otherwise, in support of political campaigning for any candidate or political party as well as other similar forms of advocacy that fall outside the scope of equity issues...
“Goodyear remains steadfastly in support of federal, state and local law enforcement.”
In Northern Ireland, the News Letter recently reported that a group called TransgenderNI had accepted payment to “train” both the PSNI and Department of Justice, despite director Alexa Moore having a long history of sometimes violent anti-police rhetoric (see link below).
And the News Letter has also faced stonewalling from giant US multinational Allstate, which has heavily pushed “diversity and inclusion” and “inclusive diversity” as key policies – with top staff recorded on video talking about gender-based employment targets (the Equality Commission has said “it is not lawful to set or reserve job quotas for a proportion of women/men”).
TUV ON ‘THOUGHT POLICE’:
In response to the department releasing details about the cost of the training, Jim Allister issued the following statement:
“I can see no reason why this figure could not have been released to the News Letter in response to your Freedom of Information request.
“This is, after all, public money and journalists have a right to interrogate the powerful about how they spend public money.
“This is particularly the case when it comes to subjects like unconscious bias training which has attracted such controversy.
“If the information can be disclosed in response to an Assembly question why couldn’t it have been released in an Freedom of Information response?
“It is important that we get clarity on what, if any, outside organisations have been involved in the preparation of resources for this.”
He said “overtly political” LGBTQQIA+ campaigners enjoy an “unmerited influence” within NI’s Civil Service, and wondered to what extent they are engaged in rooting out “thought crimes” by people who disagree with their agenda.
And harking back to a 2012 ruling in which Conor Murphy was criticsed in an employment tribunal after a Protestant candidate for NI Water’s top job were passed over, Mr Allister added: “Given that a tribunal found Murphy guilty of actual bias against a Protestant it is somewhat ironic that he is now exercised about unconscious bias.”
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