I am today launching a public consultation on the Government’s plans to reform the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
The coalition programme for government commits to “reduce the number and cost of quangos”. In order to deliver this, the Government carried out a major review of public bodies last year. Following that review, the decision was taken to retain the commission but substantially reform it to focus it on the areas where it alone can add value, and to increase its accountability to Government, Parliament and the public.
We want the Equality and Human Rights Commission to become a valued and respected national institution. To achieve this aim, we have today set out our proposals for legislative and non-legislative reform 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.
Copies of the consultation document will be placed in the House Library and can also be found on the Government Equalities’ Office website at the following link www.equalities.gov.uk.