Activists call for human rights chief to stand down

Author: By Jonathan Owen

The attack comes at the end of a week in which the organisation has suffered
criticism over the state of its finances. Some of the country’s most
respected race, disability and human rights equalities campaigners are so
concerned at the way that the EHRC is being run that they have resigned
rather than remain as commissioners.

On Friday the prominent gay rights campaigner Ben Summerskill became the
latest to go ? the fourth to resign in little over a week. The resignations
followed the announcement earlier this month that Mr Phillips had been
reappointed for a further three years. So far, six commissioners have
resigned since March. It is understood that another commissioner, Baroness
Greengross, is seriously considering her position.

Lord Dholakia said: “Mr Phillips has lost the confidence of the black and
Asian community,” and added: “I don’t think he’s brought with him
the administrative experience that is necessary to run an organisation with
a £75m budget and I think the job is probably too big for him.”

Failings in management and administration are so fundamental that the
Government should bring in Lord Ouseley, former head of the Commission for
Racial Equality (CRC), the forerunner of the EHRC, the peer said. “I
can think of no better person to reorganise the commission and bring it to
its proper footing. In the meantime if Trevor Phillips were to take a back
seat, so much the better.”

Mr Summerskill also called on Mr Phillips to resign: “If the organisation
is to start doing what it’s designed to do then it needs someone else in
charge. He has shown himself unable to run a large public body. The common
theme is leadership and governance ? how you do things appropriately with
public money.”

Concerns over Mr Phillips’s leadership have been growing for months. But the
past few days has seen him embarrassed by a critical National Audit Office
(NAO) report that revealed nearly £1m of taxpayers’ money was spent on
generous redundancy packages for senior staff at the CRE who were then given
lucrative consultancy contracts at the EHRC.

The financial problems afflicting the organisation are far from resolved,
according to Mr Summerskill. In his resignation letter to Harriet Harman,
the minister for women and equality, on Friday, he said that Mr Phillips’s
reappointment meant that “as chair of the commission’s audit and risk
committee I would feel entirely unable to offer future reassurance to the
National Audit Office that the commission was being led and the commission’s
affairs conducted with appropriate probity.”

An EHRC spokeswoman described the Mr Summerskill’s departure as “regrettable”.
She added: “As the NAO recognised, the commission has improved its
internal governance arrangements so that it is on a robust footing.”

In response to Lord Dholakia, she said: “The commission is working hard
with all stakeholders. We simply do not recognise Lord Dholakia’s
description.”

The six who have stepped down

Nicola Brewer

The former diplomat resigned in March as chief executive, days after
suggesting that equal pay reviews should not be mandatory during a
recession.

Kay Hampton

Disillusionment led to her resignation in April. She claimed the EHRC is being
run by fear and paranoia.

Lady Jane Campbell

Her resignation this month prompted government minister Maria Eagle to
describe her departure as “a loss for the commission”.

Professor Francesca Klug

Human rights expert and director of the Human Rights Futures Project, who
cited “problems of leadership and governance”.

Sir Bert Massie

Resigned on 18 July and told Harriet Harman: “I cannot agree with the way
in which the commission is led.”

Ben Summerskill

Gay rights campaigner and chief executive of Stonewall resigned on Friday.

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