An equalities minister has delivered a lukewarm verdict on the first two years of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), saying the watchdog “could do better”.
Maria Eagle, a minister in the Government Equalities Office (GEO), said the EHRC had had a “tough” and “rocky start” over its first 27 months.
She told MPs on the Commons communities and local government committee: “I think it would be fair to say they have had a rocky start but that they are looking to the future with some confidence.”
She said the EHRC had “plenty of public money with which to deliver” and the government would want to see “some value for money”.
She added: “I think they have had a tough start and I think they could do better and I think they will do better.”
She said she hoped the new board of commissioners – including eight new members appointed in December – would be “a good solid team that will hold the officers and the staff to account in terms of delivery”.
Eagle avoided giving EHRC chair Trevor Phillips her full backing when asked if the government was right to re-appoint him last summer, replying instead that she was “confident” the troubles could be “firmly placed behind them”.
When pushed on whether Phillips was the person to lead them in this, she replied: “He is now in post to do that and he will be held to account by this committee and others and by the GEO to ensure that he does.”
Her comments, during a one-off evidence session on the work of the GEO, follow a difficult year for the commission.
Last summer, its two disabled commissioners, Baroness [Jane] Campbell and Sir Bert Massie, resigned over concerns about Phillips’s leadership.
The EHRC also had to change its structure after the government said it needed to put more emphasis on the individual equality “strands” such as disability and race.
And it was criticised by the National Audit Office over consultancy fees paid following its launch in October 2007.
An EHRC spokeswoman said Eagle’s comments related to historic issues that had been “well and truly discussed” in the past, while the commission was “progressing forward” with a “great body of work around disability”.
Mike Smith, the new chair of the EHRC’s disability committee, said this work included its inquiry into disability-related harassment, taking important legal cases, successfully lobbying for changes to the equality bill, and an initiative to improve job opportunities for disabled people.
27 January 2010