The government has appointed one of Britain’s most-successful Paralympians to be the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) new disability commissioner.
Chris Holmes is one of six new commissioners whose appointments were announced by the Conservative culture secretary Maria Miller this week.
Holmes was director of Paralympic integration for the London 2012 organising committee LOCOG, and served as a commissioner with the Disability Rights Commission (DRC) for more than five years.
He has also chaired UK Sport’s audit committee since 2006, is a patron of the charity Help for Heroes, and is a commercial lawyer. He won nine Paralympic swimming gold medals, including six at the Barcelona Paralympics of 1992.
The government said Holmes had displayed a “strong commitment to disability-related issues, board-level experience, and corporate governance experience, experience of leading significant change, audit committee experience, and relevant field experience”.
Holmes replaces Mike Smith, who won praise during his three-year term as the disability commissioner, particularly for his work leading the EHRC’s inquiry into disability-related harassment, Hidden in Plain Sight.
Baroness [Jane] Campbell, a former DRC and EHRC commissioner, said: “It is good to see that a disabled person who was centrally involved in the successes of the Disability Rights Commission and the Paralympics integration body of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, secured the disability commissioner position.
“I now have hope that disability will continue to be driven into the heart of the equality and human rights agenda and not be left out in the cold again! No pressure Chris!”
Lord [Colin] Low, who Holmes succeeded as a DRC commissioner, said of his work at the DRC: “As far as I could see he was doing a very good job. I think he would be a very good person to appoint.”
Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson, who worked with Holmes at LOCOG, also welcomed the appointment and said it was “a good move”.
She said: “He’s been involved before so he knows the landscape and having worked on the Paralympics he’ll know what you can do with collaborative working.”
Disability Rights UK also welcomed the appointment, and said Holmes had played a leading role in the success of the Paralympics.
An EHRC spokesman said Holmes was not yet ready to talk about his new role.
Miller also appointed Caroline Waters, director of people and policy at BT, as the EHRC’s new deputy chair, and four other commissioners: Evelyn Asante-Mensah, former head of equalities and economic inclusion for the Northwest Regional Development Agency, and a former chair of NHS Manchester; Laura Carstensen, a member of the UK Competition Commission and a former partner of the international law firm Slaughter and May; Professor Swaran Singh, head of mental health and wellbeing at the University of Warwick; and Sarah Veale, head of the TUC’s equality and employment rights department.
Miller also announced that – following a review – the EHRC’s new “core” budget had been set at £17.1 million a year.
The commission was believed to have been preparing for an annual budget of £18 million, several million pounds less than the annual budget of the DRC when it was merged into the new “cross-strand” equality body in 2007.
But the government appears to have found some extra funding for the EHRC, at least in the short term.
There will be an additional £7.94 million in 2013-14 and £1.4 million in 2014-15 to help with the commission’s transition to its new “operating model”.
And the government will also make available a potential further £7.8 million in 2013-14 and £8 million in 2014-15 to support “wider activities that contribute to equalities and human rights priorities”, although the commission will have to bid for this money.
The EHRC’s budget was originally set at £62 million for 2010-11, but was cut to £55 million by the new coalition government during 2010.
The government later announced plans to reduce the budget to £26.8 million by 2014-15. As part of the cuts, the government has outsourced the commission’s helpline, and removed funding for its grants programme and conciliation service.
16 January 2013