The government has refused to explain why it has still not appointed six new commissioners to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
The EHRC board is operating with only a skeleton number of commissioners, more than a month after it was supposed to have appointed the new board members.
Among the commissioners yet to be replaced is Mike Smith, the EHRC’s only disabled commissioner, who led on disability issues and chaired its disability committee, and whose term ended on 3 December.
The EHRC had been expecting the Conservative equalities minister, Maria Miller, to announce the new appointments before Christmas.
There have been suggestions that the government was forced to extend its search for new commissioners because of a shortage of high quality applicants.
Smith was not even interviewed for the chance to be reappointed to the board, even though his performance was praised earlier this year in an annual assessment.
He said: “It is clearly concerning that they have not yet appointed a new board – including a new disability commissioner – and that the organisation is not able to have proper governance.”
Kirsten Hearn, the vice-chair of the disability committee, has been appointed by the EHRC as acting chair of the committee.
The government has decided that the size of the board should be reduced from 14 commissioners to 10.
At present, there are just four commissioners – Baroness [Onora] O’Neil, the EHRC’s new chair; Sarah Anderson; Ann Beynon, the Wales commissioner; and Kaliani Lyle, the Scotland commissioner.
The coalition has been highly critical of the EHRC and has spoken of wanting a different focus to its board, with commissioners with more corporate and management experience, and less emphasis on those with a background in equality and human rights.
But campaigners have accused the government of a “sustained attack” on the equality agenda and the EHRC, including removing the commission’s ability to award grants, its helpline and its conciliation service, and slashing its budget.
The Government Equalities Office (GEO) has previously said that the procedure for appointing the new commissioners was “exactly the same as any other public appointment procedure”, with recommendations from a panel passed to Miller for final decisions on who to appoint.
A GEO spokeswoman said this week: “We are due to make the appointments shortly – as soon as possible.”
10 January 2013