Phillips appointed new equality chief

Trevor Phillips has been formally appointed head of the government’s new equality body – to a mixed response.

He has resigned as chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), but will take over its responsibilities once again next autumn when it merges with the disability rights and equality commissions to form a new organisation.

The new Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR) will promote disability rights, race relations and also take on responsibility for ending discrimination in age, sexuality, religion and belief.

Communities secretary Ruth Kelly said Mr Phillips was the “best man for the job”, had a “wealth of experience” and would be prepared to tackle difficult issues.

The former chairman of the London assembly is certainly no stranger to controversy – last year he caused outrage by warning that Britain was “sleepwalking to segregation”.

Last week Ken Livingstone said these comments proved Mr Phillips was so right wing that “soon he’ll be joining the BNP”, and he launched another attack two days ago, accusing the CRE chief of playing an “absolutely poisonous role”.

“He has said and done things as chair of the CRE, which have actually damaged race relations,” the London mayor told the LBC radio.

He added: “Now, a lot of people share Trevor’s views, and I respect that we don’t agree, but they wouldn’t take the job of running the CRE. He’s supposed to be there to challenge racism and lead the campaign against it.”

Accepting the £160,000-a-year post today, Mr Phillips said chairing the CRE had been “the best job I’ve ever had” and was “thrilled” to be asked to lead the new commission.

“The CEHR will be a modern, creative, open, powerful and above all independent voice for equality and human rights in Britain and internationally,” he said.

He added: “We need a society where our origins do not determine our destiny, where the dignity and equal treatment of the individual is unfailing, where the disadvantaged are protected and empowered.

“Our ambition must be to create a society that is at ease with all aspects of its diversity. Bringing Britain closer to this vision is probably the most exciting task of our time.”

Help the Aged policy director Paul Cann said Mr Phillips had shown a “vigorous commitment to combating racism”, but would now have to widen his scope to all forms of discrimination.

“We will want to see an early demonstration that he fully understands the need to prioritise action to stamp out ageism in our society,” he said.

But gay rights group Stonewall warned the racial equality chief had “not yet delivered for lesbian and gay people”, saying he would have to prove he could address the needs of all the groups represented in the new CEHR.

“This is a huge challenge for Trevor, we trust he will listen to a range of stakeholders as he climbs this steep learning curve,” said director of parliamentary affairs Alan Wardle.