The equality watchdog is set to make nearly 30 members of staff redundant, in what critics say is a blow to its efforts to enforce equality laws and hold the government to account over its record on disability discrimination.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) told staff on Tuesday this week (19 April) that as many as 29 of about 200 posts were at risk, with the possibility of some compulsory redundancies.
In a consultation paper titled Moving Towards A New EHRC (pictured), the commission talks of “fundamental changes to the way in which we do our work” and says that it will “examine opportunities for sharing services with other regulators, and build more alliances with third parties”.
It points as an example of such alliances elsewhere in the public sector to the link between NHS Blood and Transplant and the dating site Tinder to raise awareness about organ donations.
It also says that it will now “focus on a smaller number of bigger projects and programmes”.
The paper mentions an “unprecedented” decade of consecutive budget cuts to public bodies.
There will now be a 30-day consultation period on the proposals.
The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, which represents many of the commission’s staff, said it was “appalled” by the proposals and although it was too early to talk of industrial action said that “we would never rule it out”.
A PCS spokesman said: “EHRC has been systematically hacked back in recent years, with budgets and staffing slashed under the coalition and now the Tories.
“This would further undermine this small but vital agency, at a time when the Human Rights Act is under threat and the government’s record on disability discrimination is rightly under massive scrutiny.”
The watchdog’s core budget for 2016-17 has been frozen at £17.1 million, a real terms cut, and it follows years of cuts to its funding since the formation of the coalition government in 2010.
In 2010, the commission’s annual budget was as high as £62 million.
A budget of £17.1 million is several million pounds less than the annual budget of the Disability Rights Commission when it was merged into the new “cross-strand” equality body in 2007.
At one time, EHRC employed as many as 525 people, after its launch in 2007.
An EHRC spokesman said: “While we do not comment on the detail of leaks, our business plan sets out our intention to develop and implement a new operating model this year which will ensure we have the right structure, people and processes in place to deliver our ambitious plans to tackle discrimination and promote equality of opportunity and human rights.
“Our role is as an independent and authoritative national body that delivers significant and sustainable impact.
“To undertake this function on the basis of constant improvement requires enhancing our culture and ensuring we have the best people with the right skills and expertise to perform our role effectively.
“We need to achieve this against the background of the government’s spending review, from which we have known for some time that we will need to make spending reductions, in common with other public bodies.
“We are confident that making these changes will enable us to deliver more impact.
“We will need to make every penny count but we are absolutely committed to driving real improvements on equality and human rights in Britain.”
The Government Equalities Office had not commented on the proposed redundancies by noon today (21 April).