Press release

May: reforms for equality and human rights commission

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Radical reforms to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) will make it a stronger, more focussed and more efficient organisation, Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities Theresa May said today.

The Government Equalities Office has published detailed plans for major changes to the way the EHRC operates. The reforms will correct mistakes of the past and increase transparency, accountability and value for money.
The proposals are contained in a consultation that will run for three months from today. Ministers plan to make changes in three key areas:

  • 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
  • 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
  • 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.’

Notes to editors

1. The full proposals and consultation document can be downloaded from the Government Equalities Office website.
2. The consultation opens today and closes on 15 June 2011.

3. The EHRC covers England, Scotland and Wales. It was set up in 2007 and took on the responsibilities of the Commission for Racial Equality, the Disability Rights Commission and the Equal Opportunities Commission.

4. The EHRC is chaired by Trevor Phillips, who was reappointed in 2009 for a second three year term. The body’s interim Chief Executive is Helen Hughes.