Readers may remember earlier comments made on this thread, regarding the head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). Since then, however, Mr. Trevor Phillips has dug himself an even deeper hole. Over recent weeks his super-quango has had a rough time of it and has been subject to more resignations and recriminations.
A report by the National Audit Office last week suggested that the equalities watchdog had “some difficult questions to answer”. The NAO had discovered that the EHRC had re-employed, without authorisation, senior staff from predecessor bodies that had been previously made redundant. This ridiculous and shameful debacle, which is reported to have cost the taxpayer close to £1m, is to be investigated by the Public Accounts Committee. Not only this, the NAO was also critical of the manner in which the Commission was created. The report described the organisation as having “no business strategy, no agreed organisational design, and no clear understanding of what the commission would do”. The Commission had a less than auspicious start.
Damningly, the EHRC has in no way improved under the stewardship of Trevor Phillips. Since its creation in 2007 the Commission has been plagued by resignations, losing 9 Commissioners to date. One of the more recent resignations - Ben Summerskill, Chief Executive of Stonewall - suggested that the cumbersome EHRC is just too big for a single person to handle. Kay Hampton, another recent departee, was more critical of Mr. Phillips himself; she described his leadership as ‘egocentric’ and ‘driven by self-interest’. This is from the same Kay Hampton, a black woman and a veteran of the struggle against apartheid, who accused the Chairman of using the ‘race card’ to keep his job. Hampton also suggested that Harriet Harman (Leader of the House) reappointed Mr. Phillips in his position as Chairman out of fear of being accused of racism. Even if this suggestion is true, and it’s probably not, it is merely another nail in a thoroughly studded coffin. That Trevor Phillips should resign is the obvious conclusion to his performance as Chairman.
With the Equality and Human Rights Commission itself, an even more damning conclusion can be drawn. The Commission was created in 2007 through the amalgamation of three separate bodies, viz. the Commission for Racial Equality, the Equal Opportunities Commission, and the Disability Rights Commission. Throw into the mix the issues of age, religion, sexual orientation, transgender rights, and social class and one can get some idea of the disorder caused by the formation of this super-quango.
It has been suggested, quite accurately, that the EHRC is inherently doomed. The concept of a single equality regulator was opposed by its present constituents. The Disability Rights Commission raised the point that there are marked differences between inequalities. The Commission for Racial quality, under Mr. Philips, was also opposed to a single super-regulator. The problem is that the current system creates the unsatisfactory position whereby the separate elements of the Commission war over its resources as each competes to have the loudest voice.
Trevor Phillips, to his credit, has attempted to assert the authority of the EHRC and repeatedly insisted on a unified front. Unfortunately for him this has caused contention between himself and his senior staff, hence the resignations. Moreover, while it is apparent that the Commission is conceptually unsound, Mr. Philips is not redeemed by the failures of the Commission. He can be excused for the unsatisfactory position he found himself in but he cannot be excused for his own actions; his confrontational and egotistical personality made an already bad situation much worse.
Given the sorry state of the quango, it is perhaps surprising that EHRC is hiring more Commissioners (see right). In no way does this chaotic regulator justify the £70m that it costs to operate, let alone employ more staff at the expense of the taxpayer. This behemoth of a quango should be swiftly disbanded before it does anymore damage.