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Stitch-up claims over new single equalities body

By Lester Holloway
30/1/2004

FEARS OVER whether the proposed single equalities body into a ‘stitch-up’ were raised after two people involved in setting up the Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR) were suspected of having a conflict of interest.

Sarah Spencer
Sarah Spencer: dual roles

Mohammed Aziz of the British Muslim Research Centre has been appointed by the government to the prestigious post of ‘commissioner’ at the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), Britain’s premier race organisation, which faces abolition under plans to merge it with six other equalities areas into a new single equalities body.

And Digby Jones head of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) also been appointed to the CRE board, just weeks after his CBI colleague Neil Bentley was placed on the taskforce.

The taskforce, appointed by the government last October, will be responsible for drawing up details of how the new CEHR single equalites body will work, including what powers it will have.

Aziz and Digby will find themselves, as CRE commissioners, representing a body that faces abolition, while members of the taskforce are charged with making the merger happen. The commissioners are paid £3,100 a year to attend CRE meetings.

Critics of the CEHR plan claim the dual roles of the CRE commissioners may create a potential conflict of interest, and claimed this is further evidence of a ‘stitch-up’ in the way the whole process is being handled.

contradiction

Maxie Hayles, of the Birmingham Racial Attacks Monitoring Group, said: “It does look fishy. Aren’t there other people in the community who could have been appointed to the CRE? It’s wrong. The dual role is a contradiction. It just doesn’t look right or fair.”

And former CRE commissioner Dr Raj Chandran said: “I don’t know whether there is a hidden agenda. They [two new commissioners] should be independent from the CRE’s vested agenda.”

Under government plans the CRE will be axed in favour of merging it with the gender-specific Equal Opportunities Commission (EoC), and the Disability Rights Commission. The CEHR body will also cover religion, sexual orientation, age discrimination and human rights.

CRE chairman Trevor Phillips is known to support the single equalities commission and the abolition of his organisation.

Critics will be concerned that although Aziz and Jones were appointed to the CEHR taskforce to represent their own organisations, there may be room for confusion over whether positions they take on key issues in the taskforce have any bearing on the position of the CRE.

nominated

The CRE is only supposed to have one representative on the CEHR taskforce, and has nominated Pam Smith. CRE deputy chair Sarah Spencer is also on the taskforce, however she is not officially representing the CRE, but represents the pro-merger Equality and Diversity Forum.

Members of the Equality and Diversity Forum include the British Muslim Research Centre. This means there are now three CRE people on the taskforce, Aziz, Smith and Spencer, but only Smith officially represents the CRE.

Of the three, only Aziz is believed to be from a visible minority ethnic community. However ‘race groups’ as a whole are represented by Michelynn Lafleche, a white Canadian who leads the think-tank and research body The Runnymede Trust.

There have been complaints that grassroots black and minority ethnic groups have been stitched out of the process. There are no such groups represented on the taskforce.

The leading critic of the merger, Operation Black Vote, were not invited onto the taskforce, and The 1990 Trust – who run the Blink website – had their request turned down by the Department of Trade and Industry, who pulled together the taskforce.

agenda

Woolley warned: “Black people have fought long and hard to get the CRE and the race laws. We are not going to give this up lightly. As people become more aware of this they will demand that the agenda is set from the grassroots, not an ivory tower.”

Former CRE commissioner Shahid Malik has previously criticised the CEHR, saying it was the wrong time to introduce the changes.

Malik said the CRE was only just getting to grips with their responsibilities to ensure 40,000 public bodies complied with the Race Relations (Amendment) Act by producing race equality plans.

There are concerns that the new CEHR body will not have adequate powers to enforce equalities laws, or the resources to cope with seven separate equalities subject areas.

Former CRE chair Lord Herman Ouseley has criticsed the governments proposals, and fears lack of a clear enforcement role.

There are also concerns that having so many different equalities lobbies and interest groups in one body will cause hundreds of potential flashpoints, and competing priorities.

unworkable

Woolley has said: “There is a feeling that this new body is being put together to save money and save setting up new commissions [on religion, age and sexuality].”

There has also been criticism that the government was ‘putting the cart before the horse’ because a single equalities body was being introduced without a single equalities law.

Lord Anthony Lester, the architect of the CRE in 1976 has been particularly vocal on this point.

The 1990 Trust has said the CEHR would create an unworkable mess – an organisation starved of resources – that would not have the confidence of Britain’s black and minority ethnic communities.

Karen Chouhan, Director of the 1990 Trust said: “Such proposals would mean the government letting itself off the hook on tackling institutional racism.

“It would be a nail in the coffin for the whole Lawrence agenda. And it would also give a green-light to those who want to discriminate that they are less likely to be pulled-up.”

Aziz could not be contacted.

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Resources:

Teeth and their use

Improving Opportunity, Strengthening Society: One year On

The Zahid Mubarek Inquiry

pdf Dept. for Communities & Local Government Citizenship Survey

Responses to the Equalities Review Interim Report

The 1990 Trust Response to The Equalities Review Interim Report

Equalities Review Interim Report Briefing – Addressing Race Equality

pdf Our Rights, Our Future

pdf Improving Opportunity, Strengthening Society: The Government's race strategy

CRE response to DTI Statement on Commission for Equality and Human Rights

Equality and Diversity Forum welcomes the progress on a Commission for Equality and Human Rights

Summary of Changes to the CEHR

The 1990 Trust’s response to the CEHR White Paper

pdf Delivering equality and human rights for black and minority ethnic communities

Flush the academic racism in Blunkett’s office down the pan

Jacqui Smith answers questions on the Single Equalities Body

How to Contact your MP

Links:

Race and Faith and Communities

Election Memory

Catalyst Magazine

UNITE TO PROTECT OUR RIGHTS: sign the statement against the erosion of civil liberties and human rights by new anti-terrorism proposals A Black Manifesto No 2 ID FREE FAROUQ PDP ASSOCIATES Power to the People

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