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Trevor Phillips ‘shocked’ over senior aide’s departure from equality commission

Jessica Geen July 27, 2009
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The head of communications at the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), Kamal Ahmed, is the latest to depart the quango after a series of high-profile resignations.

EHRC head Trevor Phillips was said to be “shocked” over Ahmed’s departure, who he regarded as an ally.

According to the Guardian, Ahmed, a former Observer journalist, is leaving to begin a job as business editor at the Sunday Telegraph.

The quango is in turmoil following the National Audit Office’s decision to refuse approval for its annual accounts and the resignations of six commissioners.

The financial watchdog was concerned about almost £1 million spent on re-employing seven members of the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), who had already received generous severance packages.

The CRE was scrapped in favour of the EHRC in 2007. The EHRC had not sought Treasury approval before re-employing the members.

Phillips was reappointed as chairman by equality minister Harriet Harman two weeks ago. Since then, four commissioners have resigned, citing problems with his leadership. Two commissioners resigned earlier this year.

On Friday, Stonewall chief executive Ben Summerskill quit his role as commissioner.

Although many of those who have resigned attacked Phillips’ leadership, Summerskill was the first to call for him to step down.

He told “I think its time for him [Phillips] to step aside and make room for someone who can deliver outcomes.”

Kay Hampton, the black anti-apartheid campaigner who quit in April, accused Phillips of playing the “race card”.

She said: “Nobody is prepared to challenge Trevor for fear of being accused of racism.

“He has already played the race card in the commission. I suspect this could be the reason why Harriet Harman reappointed him.”

Phillips is said to have alleged he was being ousted because he is black. He reportedly told friends critics thought a “white woman” could do the job better.

He has angered race campaigners by claiming the police are no longer “institutionally racist” and that multiculturalism is not working.

Along with the seven commissioners who have already resigned, Baroness Greengross, the vice-president of Age Concern, is reported to be stepping down once Phillips returns from holiday.

Last week, director of stakeholder relations, Bradley Brady, and Alun Davies, chair of the commission’s disability committee, also resigned.

Those who have resigned in the last two weeks 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, 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”.

The Commons communities and local government committee is set to investigate the commission’s financial situation and management as part of a wider inquiry into the Communities Department.

Committee chairwoman Phyllis Starkey told the Evening Standard: “I imagine that when we return in the autumn we may well be wanting to review the operations of the EHRC. The commission does incredibly important work. The current row is an unwelcome diversion.

“Trevor clearly needs to take steps to address the concerns and bring the organisation together. He needs to get a grip.”

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