Saturday, November 17, 2007

Equality Shambles


Worth £300 grand of anyone's money

We've blogged the state equality industry several times. In particular, we looked at the amalgamation of the Commission for Racial Equality, the Disability Rights Commission, and the Equal Opportunities Commission, to form Labour's new super equality quango- the Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR). It's high time for an update.

As predicted, the chairmanship went to Labour apparatchik Trevor Phillips, and the whole thing finally kicked off on 1 October.

And also as predicted, it's been an expensive shambles.

To start with, Trev didn't like the name- the Commission for Equality and Human Rights. So he changed it. To the far more expressive Equality and Human Rights Commission. Obviously all the old CEHR branded stationary, calling cards, ballpoints, souvenir back-scratchers etc had to be sent to landfill, and a whole new lot of EHRC branded stuff ordered up. But hey, you've got to get this important stuff right.

Cost? We've no idea, and it's a fair bet they haven't either.

But we do know how much was spent on the branding itself, because the figures were given to the House of Commons Communities and Local Government Committee (see report here). It was a third of a million quid, paid to an outfit called 35 Communications. Presumably they were the ones who came up with the new logo, shown above.

(No, honestly, that's it. Geddit?)

The Committee also highlighted the shambolic and expensive way the three separate quangos were banged into one.

Naturally, consultants were hired to tell them what to do: Ernst & Young, who charged £0.5m for the pleasure. But they were hired before Trev arrived on the scene, and were reporting to a gentleman by the name of Patrick Boyle. Boyle was the CEHR transitional programme director, put in post in 2006 to make sure the new organisation could hit the ground running.

But when Trev was appointed earlier this year, he didn't want that. He wanted his own consultants. So he fired Ernst & Young and hired Towers Perrin instead. At a further cost of £0.4m. Oh, and he "exited" Boyle as well.

So the new quango started operations with packing cases strewn all over the floor and many of the posts not permanently filled. Even though they'd had a whole year's lead time. The Commons Committee reported in August:

"It is deeply disappointing that the responsible Minister could, with less than four months left before its launch, offer so little information on the extent to which the Commission will be operational at the time of its launch. It is indicative of a significant failure to manage the transition process.

... indecision, instability and delays in Government’s management of the transition have undermined the ability of the Commission to deliver effectively from day one."

And then of course, having dug that hole, Trev and his equality quangocrats flip-flopped into digging the other- rushing to appoint just to get the slots filled.

The appointment of a head for the Welsh branch is a case in point. According to the Western Mail:

"THE new “super body” for equality issues undermined its own remit by setting up a panel of three white women to pick its director for Wales.

Kate Bennett, the former director of the Equal Opportunities Commission in Wales, was appointed early last month to an equivalent post with the CEHR.... It has emerged that the interviewing panel which appointed Ms Bennett was composed of three white women...

A CEHR spokeswoman said... “The speed at which we are having to recruit, in particular over the summer months, meant we were not able to assemble as large and diverse a panel as we would have liked."

This all seems to have gone down very badly in Welsh equality circles, with mutterings about Ms Bennett's track record, and Trev's "control freakery". In fact, there's a brand new blog devoted to exposing the full horror: =Real Equality=.

Real Equality also points out that, while the equality quangos have all been banged together under Trev, equality reponsibility at ministerial level is still all over the place. Yes, there is the brand new Government Equality Office (GEO), under the screeching Harriet Harman, and that is the sponsoring department for Trev's EHRC.

But only "gender and sexual orientation are under GEO: race and belief are staying at the Department for Communities and Local Government (or “handling extremism” as Blears puts it), and disability is staying at the Department for Work and Pensions. Age? Who knows!"

So despite all that waffle about a unified approach and a single Equalities Act (still somewhere in the long stinging nettles), it's yet another dog's breakfast of indecision and muddled reponsibilities.

And what's it all costing taxpayers?

Well, Trev's annual budget kicks off at £70m pa, plus £24m set-up costs (covering among other things the £3.5m so far spent on consultants).

But as we all appreciate, that's just the tip of a very large iceberg.

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