Government to reform the Equality and Human Rights Commission
The Government Equalities Office has published detailed plans for major changes to the way the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) operates.
The proposals are contained in a consultation that will run for three months from today. Ministers plan to make changes in three key areas:
1) Clarifying the EHRC’s remit.The government will amend the legislation that established the EHRC, the Equality Act 2006, to clarify the Commission’s core functions. This will allow the EHRC to focus on the work that really matters, where it alone can add value. At present, vagueness in the Equality Act, for example, the duty to “promote understanding of the importance of equality and diversity” has led to the EHRC undertaking a wide range of activities that are not regulatory in nature, including running summer camps for young people.
2) Stopping non-core activities. One of the causes of the Commission’s difficulties was the breadth of its remit – extending beyond its core role to, for example, operating a helpline and grants programme. The Commission has struggled to do these things well in the past, so we have decided that we should not fund it to do them in the future. The evidence suggests that this work could be done better or more cost-effectively by others.
3) Improving transparency and value for money.Problems with financial controls mean that each set of the EHRC’s accounts have been qualified since its creation, and it has struggled to deliver value for money. Today’s proposals include a legal requirement for the EHRC to publish an annual business plan in Parliament, and comply with the same rules as all other public bodies when spending money. Where the Commission fails to show that it has spent taxpayers’ money wisely, financial penalties will apply.
Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equality Theresa May said:
“It’s vital that we have a strong, effective and independent equalities and human rights body, but since its creation the EHRC has struggled to deliver across its remit and demonstrate that it is delivering value for taxpayers’ money.
“We want the EHRC to become a valued and respected national institution, championing effective implementation of equality and human rights laws and holding government and others to account for their performance, while delivering maximum value for money for taxpayers. The proposals being published today are intended to make that happen.”
The EHRC was established by the Equality Act 2006 and came into being on 1 October 2007. The Commission has responsibility for the promotion and enforcement of equality and non-discrimination laws in England, Scotland and Wales. It took over the responsibilities of three former commissions: the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) and the Disability Rights Commission (DRC). It also has responsibility for other aspects of equality: age, sexual orientation and religion or belief. As a national human rights institution, it seeks to promote and protect human rights in Great Britain, with the exception of matters falling within the remit of the Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC).
In response to the Government’s review, EHRC chair Trevor Phillips stated:
“We are already talking to our stakeholders about our vision for the Commission’s future and will continue to do so during this consultation and beyond. Our priorities reflect changes in the equality landscape and the evidence we have been gathering about where our work is most needed, such as those identified in our review of equality ‘How Fair is Britain’. We are confident that this will allow us to deliver maximum impact and value for public money.
The EHRC costs £60 million a year to operate and has offices in Manchester, London, Glasgow and Cardiff. It is classed as a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Government Equalities Office, meaning that it is separate and independent from Government but still accountable for its public funds. The chairman of the Commission is Trevor Phillips who was previously chairman of the CRE.