Equality and Human Rights Commission - Public Accounts Committee Contents

1 Weaknesses in setting up the Commission

1.  The Equality and Human Rights Commission (the Commission) was established by the Equality Act 2006 and came into existence on 18 April 2006. It took up its new powers, and those of the former Commission for Racial Equality, the Disability Rights Commission and the Equal Opportunities Commission (the Legacy Commissions), on 1 October 2007. The Commission has a wider mandate than the Legacy Commissions, having responsibilities also for protecting against discrimination on the grounds of age, religion or belief, or sexual orientation and for promoting human rights in the United Kingdom.[2]

2.  In May 2006, the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) reported that the timetable for creating the Commission was high risk.[3] The OGC subsequently carried out a Gateway Review in May 2007, which expressed serious concerns that the Commission would not be ready to start operations on 1 October.[4] At this point, the Commission did not have a transition strategy, business strategy, organisational design, or job descriptions.[5]

3.  The Commission explained that the main reason it had slipped so far behind by May 2007 was delays in appointing senior officers (Figure 1).[6] The Chair of the Commission was appointed in September 2006, five months after the Commission was created. However, he could not begin working full time at the Commission until November 2006, after he had been replaced as Chair of the Commission for Racial Equality.[7] The Chief Executive was not then appointed until January 2007, and did not take up post until March.[8] Senior management could not be appointed until the Chief Executive was in post and after the lengthy process of advertising and interviewing for senior positions had taken place.[9] Consequently, when the Commission opened its doors on 1 October 2007, only ten of the complement of 25 Directors were in post.[10] Unsurprisingly, the Chair and the 12 Commissioners appointed in December 2006 had been unable to formulate a fully fledged business plan with no senior management in post.[11]

4.  Before the Board was appointed, the sponsoring Department had set up a transition team to manage the set-up of the Commission.[12] By December 2006, this team had carried out work on a proposed organisational design for the Commission. However, this was done before the Board had discussed what kind of organisation it wanted the Commission to be, and there appears to have been an assumption that the Board would simply accept the design as presented. The Chair therefore stopped progress on this work when he took up post.[13]Figure 1: Timeline for senior appointments
Date Appointment
September 2006Chair of the Commission appointed
November 2006Commission Chair begins to work full time at the Commission
December 200612 further Commissioners appointed to the Board
January 2007Chief Executive appointed
March 2007Chief Executive takes up post
July-September 2007 Four members of the Senior Management Team and one Director appointed
1 October 2007One member of the Senior Management Team appointed and four Directors transferred from the Legacy Commissions
October 2007-March 2008 Remaining one member of the Senior Management Team and fourteen Directors appointed

Source: Qq 1-3 and 17; Ev 20, Annex A

5.  The transition team also suffered from a high level of turnover in the appointment of Programme Directors, with four appointed in the space of 20 months.[14] The Programme Directors had varying degrees of merger experience and some came from outside the civil service.[15] The Department acknowledges that the transition team needed a better balance between people with merger experience and people who understood the government sector.[16]

6.  There were also a number of changes in the Department overseeing the set-up of the Commission.[17] The Equalities Unit, which sponsored the Commission, was originally part of the Department for Trade and Industry. It was subsequently moved to the Department for Communities and Local Government, then to the Department for Work and Pensions, and finally was set up as a stand alone Department called the Government Equalities Office in October 2007. Although many of the staff within the Unit who dealt with the Commission remained the same, the Finance and HR functions they relied upon for specialist advice and guidance changed each time the responsibilities transferred to a new Department.[18] Consequently, important agreements such as the Commission's pay remit were not finalised until after the Commission was launched.[19] The Department acknowledged that these changes in the sponsoring Department did not help the process of setting up the Commission.[20]

7.  In response to these problems the Commission decided to have a phased launch. The original launch date of 1 October 2007 was to be a 'soft launch', building up to a 'full launch' of the Commission in April 2008.[21] The staff transferred from the Legacy Commissions on 1 October 2007, and the Commission's offices and helpline were open for business on this date.[22] However, the Commission was not able to address all of the recommendations from the May 2007 OGC report before October 2007. For example, members of staff could not be assigned individual job descriptions because each had to be negotiated with the trades unions.[23]

8.  The Board discussed delaying the start date at its first and second meetings. However, it decided not to delay because it was under pressure to get the doors open. The Board did not want to disappoint Parliament, ministers and the Commission's other stakeholders.[24] The Commission accepts that it should have been less optimistic in its assessment of what it could achieve in the short time available, and that the launch date should have been delayed.[25] The Chair also acknowledged that the Board did not exercise the level of scrutiny that it might have done.[26] In particular, issues relating to staff shortages and the need to re-engage former employees as consultants should have been drawn to the attention of the full Board at an earlier stage.[27]

2   C&AG's Report, para 1 Back

3   Q 90; Ev 20, Annex A Back

4   Ev 17, para 15 Back

5   Qq 44-45 and 89 Back

6   Q 17 Back

7   Qq 1-2 and 17 Back

8   Q 3 Back

9   Q 17 Back

10   Q 5; Ev 17, para 18 Back

11   Q 43 Back

12   Q 72 Back

13   Q 107 Back

14   Q 96 Back

15   Q 99 and 100 Back

16   Q 99 Back

17   Q 10 Back

18   Q 90 Back

19   EV 16, para 12 and Ev 18, para 28 Back

20   Q 10 Back

21   Q 16 Back

22   Q 46 Back

23   Q 72 Back

24   Q 91 Back

25   Qq 17 and 71 Back

26   Q 13 Back

27   Q 13 Back

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