Phillips leadership savaged by MPs

By Ian Dunt

Trevor Phillips’ leadership of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has been bitterly criticised by a parliamentary committee.

The joint committee on human rights said there were serious concerns over his leadership and the decision to push through his reappointment in the face of widespread anxiety.

“In our view, the reappointment of the chair and deputy chair of the EHRC should on this occasion have been subject to open competition, to help restore confidence in the organisation and its leadership following the well-publicised difficulties the EHRC faced in 2009,” the report said.

“The minister’s decision simply to reappoint Mr Phillips without any parliamentary involvement could undermine the perceived independence of the Commission and put its accreditation as a national human rights institution at risk.”

The report follows a vote by MPs to investigate Mr Phillips for contempt of parliament, after three members of the committee which published today’s report said he had approached them to discuss it while it was at report stage.

A spate of senior resignations have blighted the EHRC recently, with concerns being voiced about Mr Phillips’ management style and a culture of intimidation and cronyism claims flatly refuted by Mr Phillips.

Despite the resignations, Mr Phillips was appointed for a second three-year term as chairman last summer.

The committee also raised concerns about the body’s human rights strategy, which it branded “vague”. The criticism echoes that made by various rights groups when the EHRC was first created, through an amalgamation of various equality bodies. Back then, some analysts said the move would lead to a body whose concerns and actions were too generalised to be effective.

“We are concerned that the EHRC has not done enough, well enough, on human rights issues. The vague human rights strategy published by the EHRC was a disappointment,” said committee chairman Andrew Dismore.

“It appears to have been drafted in haste and is very general in its content.”

The EHRC said the report related back to events in 2006/07, not the last year, and that action had been taken to negate many of the committee’s criticisms recently.

A spokesman added that comments critical of the leadership style were countered by more satisfied voices during the witness stage.