His comments are the first sign that cracks are appearing in the governments’ process to set up a body merging seven equalities areas into a new Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR).
In an interview with Blink Phillips, Chair of the race-specific Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), said the process was not a done deal and he would consider walking away if demands for resources and powers for the new body were not met.
Phillips said he favoured the single equalities body in principle, but added: “We’ve got to have the right resources, the right expertise; and we have got to keep and enhance the legal powers we’ve got at the moment. If that isn’t what takes place then I’m not interested.
“I’ve been very clear with ministers about it. I’m not going to kill myself over this. If it doesn’t happen then the CRE is a perfectly good organisation, it’s just got to do it’s job better.”
Phillips added: “I think that the government is pretty determined to get it through, but I don’t think there is any reason that says it will automatically happen.
|Trevor Phillips draws the line
“I’m not going to go so far to say the jury’s out. I would like it to happen, however if what is proposed isn’t in the interests of race equality then as far as I’m concerned it doesn’t happen. We’re not going to be part of it.”
His comments are sure to send shockwaves through the Department for Trade and Industry (DTI), which is supervising the process of starting the single equalities body and the taskforce which is working out details of how the new body would work in practice.
CEHR will combine race equality, disabilities, sexual orientation, age and religious discrimination, human rights and gender issues.
It will also spell the end for the three existing equality bodies – the CRE, the Disability Rights Commission and the gender-specific Equal Opportunities Commission.
Organisations like Operation Black Vote, and The 1990 Trust, which fund Blink, have raised concerns over the lack of dissenting voices and grassroots minority ethnic representation on the CEHR taskforce, which was pulled together by the DTI. Without this, they argue, the whole process and the new body will lack a mandate to represent those communities.
Michelynn Lafleche, Director of the Runnymede Trust and a member of the CEHR taskforce, agreed with Phillips that there was still a long way in setting up the new body.
She said: “Trevor is probably right. Obviously he’s in a position to know what goes on in government more than I am. So, no I don’t think it’s a done deal at all. It’s a very long process before it’s finished. Even if it is finished.”
A DTI White Paper, to be published in June, will set out full details of what the new body will look like following the conclusion of the taskforce’s deliberations in a fortnight. Lafleche said this must be widely consulted on.
“We really must get as many organisations to respond as possible”, she said. “The process should be trying to be as inclusive as possible and by making the documents public, that’s one method of doing it. Another method is to continue to have discussions through as many forums as possible, and your website is one.”
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