Equality watchdog sounds warning over curbs to its powers

Plans set out today to curb the powers of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission have raised concerns at the fairness watchdog.

Plans set out today to curb the powers of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission have raised concerns at the fairness watchdog.

Though current inquiries into tackling disability-related harassment and the home care sector will be unaffected, as will future similar investigations, the government has proposed to remove its duty to promote good relations in society.

This is the legal basis for the inquiry into disability-related harassment, a grants programme for voluntary and community groups and work to build a “map of gaps” analysing local authority domestic violence services.

The government said “valuable” work, such as the disability harassment inquiry, could be conducted under other legal powers. It questioned the commission’s value for money, claiming some of its work duplicated that carried out by local authorities and other bodies.

“While it is too soon to comment on the government’s proposals in detail, we are concerned that the removal of our good relations mandate may prevent us from being able to do many practical things at a time when community relations are under particular strain,” said commission chair Trevor Phillips.

The ECHR survived the government’s “bonfire of quangos” last October, but plans to curb its powers started to emerge.

The government wants to narrow the commission’s legal remit to core functions, such as monitoring compliance with equality legislation and intervening to address non-compliance.

This would involve repealing a general duty on the ECHR to support the development of a increasingly equal society with more respect for human rights. The government believes this premise to be too vague and creates “unrealistic expectations”.

Proposals to improve the value for money and financial transparency of the organisation have also been put forward, after the National Audit Office found fault with its first two sets of accounts.

“Since its creation, the EHRC has struggled to deliver across its remit and demonstrate that it is delivering value for taxpayers’ money,” said home secretary and minister for equality Theresa May.

“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 published today are intended to make that happen.”

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