Government consults on Equality and Human Rights Commission overhaul

The Government has launched a consultation on plans to reform the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to ensure that it focuses on its core regulatory activities. 

The EHRC was established in October 2007, when it took over the work of the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Commission for Racial Equality and the Disability Rights Commission. It was also given responsibility for promoting equality and tackling discrimination in respect of age, sexual orientation and religion or belief, and providing institutional support for human rights. The Government says in the consultation that the EHRC has "struggled to deliver against its remit and provide value for money" and "not been cost effective for the taxpayer". 

The Government's consultation sets out its plans to reform the EHRC so that it concentrates on carrying out its core activities, while other tasks "can be done better or more cost effectively by others". The proposals mean that the EHRC would concentrate on:

  • promoting awareness of equality legislation so that individuals, employers and others understand their rights and obligations;
  • working in partnership with organisations to highlight good practice and build their capacity to eliminate unlawful discrimination and advance equality of opportunity;
  • monitoring compliance with equality legislation and holding government and public bodies to account for their performance on equality, for example on their compliance with the new public sector equality duty;
  • intervening to address non-compliance, including bringing, or supporting individuals to bring, strategic test cases to clarify and enforce the law;
  • maintaining a "robust evidence base" to inform and drive improvements in equality practice; and
  • helping the Government to evaluate and monitor the effectiveness of the Equality Act 2010. 

The consultation suggests that the EHRC would no longer:

  • have a general duty under s.3 of the Equality Act 2006, which the Government believes creates unrealistic expectations about what an equality regulator can achieve;
  • have power to make provision for conciliation services, which the Government suggests does not fit well with the Commission's strategic regulatory role and risks duplication, given the range of mediation services available; and
  • get funding for its helpline and grants programmes from 31 March 2012, which is the date on which the EHRC's existing grants programmes are due to come to a natural end (with an equivalent replacement service from the private sector and provision for legal and strategic grants programmes being given to voluntary organisations). 

The consultation document also expresses the Government's wish for the EHRC to provide "greater transparency, accountability and value for money". It suggests that there should be:

  • a statutory requirement for the EHRC to lay an annual business plan before Parliament to show how it intends to spend its budget;
  • a statutory requirement for the EHRC's chair and CEO to have regard to using public money efficiently and effectively;
  • liability for a financial sanction where it has been shown that the EHRC has spent taxpayers' money inappropriately; and
  • clear guidance that, as a publicly funded body, the EHRC is subject to Government public expenditure restrictions. 

The consultation closes on 15 June 2011. 


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