The equality watchdog will need to improve its performance before the general election if it is to survive in its current form under a Conservative government, the shadow minister for disabled people has suggested.
Speaking as his party began its conference in Manchester, Mark Harper MP said his party would watch the performance of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) closely over the next six months.
He said there was a clear need for “some kind of organisation” to provide guidance on equality legislation and to champion equality issues.
But he said: “The issue for us to think about is how do we do that in the most effective way.”
And he stopped a long way short of endorsing the EHRC’s performance and guaranteeing its future, following a turbulent six months.
Harper said the women and equality minister, Harriet Harman, had admitted that the way the EHRC was set up was “not right”, but he said it was “not clear” what “mandate” she had given the under-fire chair, Trevor Phillips.
In August, the EHRC said its board would be restructured, with individual commissioners given responsibility for “championing” a single strand, such as disability, and senior staff members given similar roles as “strand champions”.
The move followed an intervention by Harman, who admitted that the commission, which launched in 2007, had been set up the wrong way.
She said it needed to be structured more around “distinct strands” rather than the current cross-strand “melting pot”.
Her intervention had followed a series of resignations from the EHRC’s board, including those of its two disabled commissioners, Sir Bert Massie and Baroness [Jane] Campbell, following concerns about Phillips’s leadership.
Harper said: “We have to see what shape it is in. Clearly it has an opportunity to make some progress and deal with some of the issues raised by those who have resigned.
“We will look at the shape it is in and take a view on it.
“Exactly what the organisation needs to look like in detail is something we will need to take a very close look at, based on its performance between now and the election.”
5 October 2009