MINISTERS have been accused of failing to take seriously efforts to encourage more women, disabled people and those from ethnic minorities to take roles on public bodies.

Labour has accused the SNP of showing a "lack of interest and urgency" and spending a "paltry" amount on promoting more opportunities for females in public life after it emerged all of the government's improvement targets have been missed.

Finance Secretary John Swinney made the admission following parliamentary quest-ions from Labour's social justice spokeswoman Jackie Baillie.

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She had questioned him about what effort and resources the Scottish Government is putting into tackling barriers which have led to concerns that those who run public bodies are predominantly white and male.

The MSP said Mr Swinney's responses were appalling and added that he and his colleagues "are just not serious" about tackling the issue.

Ms Baillie said: "The Scottish Government has set all these targets and not met any of them. This isn't an argument about powers and where they lie, it's about determination and acting upon a priority.

"The SNP has shown a complete lack of interest and urgency, evidenced in part by the paltry amount spent on promoting opportunities for women. The fact that it takes everyone other than the SNP to drive this issue up the agenda shows that the SNP just doesn't get it.

"This is more proof that the SNP has failed to get more women into key public positions."

In 2008, the then Commissioner for Public Appointments Karen Carlton called for changes to encourage Scots from a wider range of backgrounds to put themselves forward for places on boards of public bodies. Her report found that over the previous two years, in all the public appoint-ments made by ministers, 97% of successful candidates had been white, 62% male and 97.5% able bodied.

Three years later, it emerged progress had been limited. However the latest figures show what progress had been made is apparently in reverse.

While applications for public posts from women rose from 208 the year before to 699 in 2009/10 and 566 in 2010/11, they plummeted back to 310 in 2011/12.

Applications from disabled people were 126 when Diversity Delivers was launched in 2008/9. They initially rose to 160 in 2009/10, rose further to 205 in 2010/11, then fell to 140 in 2011/12. Ethnic minority applications, at 22 in 2008/9, more than doubled to 52 in 2009/10, rose again to 64 in 2010/11, then fell by nearly half last year to 33.

Overall, applications from minority groups show a similar pattern, peaking in 2009/10 at 2294 and since slumping to 990 in 2011/12, Mr Swinney's figures reveal.

The government's target in 2008 was to raise the percentage of applications received from women to 40% of all applications, to have 15% of applications from disabled people and 8% from ethnic minorities.

Fewer than a third of all applicants were women (32%), by March last year and only 4.1% were members of ethnic minorities, with only the disability target close to being achieved, with 13% of applications coming from someone with a disability.

Mr Swinney said that a range of awareness raising and outreach activity had been undertaken to promote understanding of board positions. It included events to encourage homeless people and tenants in rented accommodation to apply to join the board of the Scottish housing regulator.

Attempts to change application and selection methods to attract a wider pool of applicants have included shorter applications, new interview processes and new assessment centre exercises.