The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has come under fire after a staffing blunder costing nearly £1 million led to the National Audit Office refusing to sign off its accounts.
The news follows the announcement of three high-level resignations from the watchdog at the weekend, bringing the total to six.
It has sparked widespread criticism of both the EHRC and the equality industry in general.
When the EHRC was formed from three existing quangoes in 2007, a number of employees were given generous redundancy packages totalling £629,276.
A subsequent staff shortage meant a number of those employees were then re-appointed to the new body, without being asked to return the payout.
Shadow equalities minister Theresa May, said: “Such a careless waste of taxpayers’ money is totally unacceptable. Never has the need been greater for public bodies to demonstrate restraint and value for money.”
Today’s Daily Telegraph editorial said: “This episode has exposed how grotesquely bloated the equalities industry has become.”
It asked: “even if savings were made from the merger of the old quangos, how can such an inflated body be justified?
“Is it any surprise that the country is so indebted when money is spent with such insouciance?”
Leading left-wing commentator Polly Toynbee complained on Monday of the failure of Labour’s equality drive.
“Equality of opportunity doesn’t happen in any society as grossly unequal as this,” she said.
Sir Bert Massey, a disability rights campaigner and one of the six Commissioners to have resigned so far, said there are “problems of leadership” at the EHRC.
“It is not a happy place,” Sir Bert added.
Joseph Harker in The Guardian newspaper pointed out the problem of ‘clashing rights’ faced by the EHRC Chairman, Trevor Phillips.
“How do you, for example, reconcile the religious freedom of an evangelical Christian with the right of a gay couple to adopt a child?” he said.
“Both these opposing groups were represented as commissioners.”
What is the EHRC?
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) enforces equality legislation on age, disability, sex, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, and sexual orientation and encourages compliance with the Human Rights Act.
According to its website, “the Commission is well equipped to take legal action on behalf of individuals, especially where there are strategic opportunities to push the boundaries of the law.”
And, “the Commission has significant powers to enforce the equalities duties of organisations and authorities, including, ultimately, launching official inquiries and formal investigations.”
It has been criticised for funding atheist group, the British Humanist Association, to run a series of events where known opponents of Christian liberties were invited to train the public in issues of religious freedom.
It also recently funded leading homosexual lobby group, Stonewall, to write a guide for employers on how to deal with religious workers.
In September 2008, it failed to give assurance that it would protect Christians expressing their beliefs about sexual ethics after The Christian Institute discovered that one of its senior figures had promised to root out ‘homophobia’ in religion.
The EHRC has one Christian Commissioner, former head of the Evangelical Alliance (EA) Joel Edwards, although his appointment was heavily criticised because of EA’s activities in campaigning for Christian freedoms to be protected from the impact of recent ‘gay rights’ legislation. Other EHRC Commissioners include Ben Summerskill, head of Stonewall, and Dr Neil Wooding, former co-chair of Stonewall Wales.
Earlier this year Mr Phillips apologised to ‘gay rights’ groups for appointing Revd Edwards as a Commissioner.
Mr Phillips is reported to have said that had he known when he appointed Revd Edwards how deeply people had been hurt and alienated, maybe there would have been a different outcome.
Calls for the Commission to more closely resemble the Canadian model have raised further concerns. In 2008 Canada’s human rights board fined a Christian pastor for expressing his views about homosexual practice, and banned him from speaking on the issue in future.