Current Affairs

Equality and Human Rights Commission hit by resignations and ‘unacceptable’ spending

Jessica Geen July 20, 2009
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Trevor Phillips, the newly-reappointed head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, is under fire over the organisation’s annual reports, while three commissioners have resigned in the last week over the way the quango is being run.

Mr Phillips was reappointed as the chairman of the EHRC last week but the National Audit Office is refusing to approve its annual accounts.

The financial watchdog is reported to be concerned about almost £300,000 in consultancy fees paid to four members of the Commission for Racial Equality.

The CRE was scrapped in favour of the EHRC in 2007 and the four members had already received substantial redundancy cheques.

The report is due to be released today, after the EHRC has laid its accounts before parliament.

Three commissioners have resigned from the quango in the last few weeks, reportedly over the way the organisation is being run. Another two resigned earlier this year.

Stonewall chief executive Ben Summerskill has also been tipped to resign this week, although understands Mr Summerskill has not spoken to the media about the rumours.

Those who have resigned in the last week are Sir Bert Massie, former chairman of the Disability Rights Commission, Baroness Campbell, the disabilities rights campaigner, and Professor Francesca Klug.

In a resignation letter to equalities minister Harriet Harman, Mr Massie said: “I have been concerned for some time about corporate governance at the Equality and Human Rights Commission and had hoped that renewed leadership would enable it to achieve its full potential.

“The reappointment of the chairman has dashed that hope and as I cannot agree with the way in which the commission is led. I must, with regret and sadness, offer my resignation with immediate effect.”

Professor Klug cited the “problems of leadership and governance we have experienced at the commission”.

She added: “There is a wealth of experience and good judgment on the board and I regret that we have not always been able to use this collective strength to best effect.”

Announcing the reappointment of Mr Phillips, Ms Harman said the number of commissioners would be scaled down and all would have to reapply for their jobs.

The former chairman of the Commission for Race Relations, Lord Ousely, hit out at the plans to make commissioners reapply for their posts. He resigned earlier this year.

He said: “It is full of cronyism and the latest twist, making commissioners apply for their own jobs, has caused the best ones to walk away. The EHRC has let down those it was supposed to help. Now it’s doomed.”

The EHRC has said it will not comment until the report is released this afternoon.

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