Government consultation on our future

Government consultation 'Building a fairer Britain: Reform of the Equality and Human Rights Commission'

On 22 March 2011 the Government launched a consultation on its plans to reform the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The consultation ran until 15 June.

Details of the consultation can be found on the Government Equalities Office (GEO) website.

Commission's detailed response to the consultation paper

15 June: Having already published an initial response to the consultation on 20 May, we now issue our full response. This detailed response addresses the specific proposals in the Government's consultation document on the Commission's future, 'Building a fairer Britain: Reform of the Equality and Human Rights Commission'.

> Download our detailed response (Pdf)

> Download our detailed response (Word)

Commission's initial response to the consultation paper

Our initial response dealt at a high level with the strategic issues raised by the Government consultation.

It summarised the Commission's view that whilst the Government is right to take steps to learn the lessons of our start-up period, its proposals may carry several significant unintended consequences which run counter to its own equality strategy and approach to de-regulation and de-centralisation.

> Download our initial response in full (Pdf)

> Download our initial response in full (Word)

Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill 2012-13

Following the government’s 2011 consultation on Commission reform, the government is using the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill currently before Parliament to amend the Equality Act 2006 and remove or amend some of the Commission’s powers.

Read the Commission’s briefings on the bill.

Correspondence between the government and the United Nations on Commission reform is available below.

Summary of our initial response

The Commission welcomes the opportunity, after three years of operation, to learn from the lessons of its start-up period, to build on its considerable achievements so far and to address the previously acknowledged shortcomings in its performance. We agree that it is essential for the Commission to have a clearer, better defined mission, both as an equality regulator and as a National Human Rights Institution (NHRI). We have already gone some way towards defining that mission as follows:

  • an effective outcome-focused regulator,
  • an evidence-led champion, and
  • an expert leader.

In particular, we agree that the role of regulator needs to be better articulated and set out as a priority for the Commission. In this role the Commission's job is to focus on explaining, promoting and, where necessary, helping the courts to enforce the law. We believe that any reforms introduced should above all help us to do this effectively and efficiently. We believe that they should protect and where possible enhance the Commission's independence.

We recognise Ministers' intentions, as expressed in the consultation document, lie in the same direction. However we consider that the proposals as they stand do not match up to the Government's own ambitions for the following reasons:

In areas where there are substantive proposals, they appear to be quite disproportionate; dealing with past problems which the Commission has already acknowledged and has invested in solving without recourse to expensive and time-consuming restructuring, or further complicated legislation.

In areas where a transfer of functions, resources and personnel is proposed, the document is silent on how the Government intends to use its increased resources; it does not offer any suggestions as to how, for example, at a time of reduced spending on legal aid, the legitimate objective of greater efficiency will be achieved whilst continuing to offer an appropriate service to the public. The Commission regards this as a rare golden opportunity for the Government and the Commission to work together to develop new options such as an innovative, not-for-profit led initiative in adviceand guidance.

In areas where there is an opportunity for truly radical reform, where the efforts of both the Government and the Commission could be brought together to support economic recovery, the consultation document is disappointingly vague; for example, whilst we welcome the Government's decision to create a single equality strategy, the Commission will still need to use precious resources managing relationships with several government departments, each of which appears to be developing its own discrete strategy.

Finally where sensible and modest legislative change may be appropriate, such as in streamlining the Commission's often complicated and cumbersome investigative and prosecutorial powers, there are no proposals. More disappointingly the document does not consider the possibilities for evolving a new approach to conciliation, mediation and good relations, which would reduce the Commission's reliance on adversarial and litigation focused regulation. Whilst we welcome Ministers' commitment in principle to a more modern and transparent approach to regulation which lays a new emphasis on preventive, proactive work, rather than costly litigation, there is little positive in the proposals that would support such a shift. Surprisingly the document gives no consideration to how the Commission might develop non-governmental streams of income, thus reinforcing its own independence and reducing its cost to the taxpayer.

Overall, we also consider that the document does not pay sufficient attention to the effect of the Government's reforms in other areas, such as localisation and public service reform, which will present profound challenges to the Commission's regulatory capabilities, but which might also present new opportunities to encourage behaviour change. It is also clear that the Commission, as a Britain-wide regulator will need flexibility to address the very different environments being developed by the Welsh Government and the Scottish Government.

In summary, whilst we concur with Ministers' broad intentions we consider that the proposals in the consultation document do not yet achieve the ends set out. They focus overly on problems which should be solved by better management and stronger governance; they apply a bureaucratic and legalistic set of solutions to what are in essence cultural problems; and they risk missing the opportunity to modernise the management of equality and human rights legislation in favour of reducing the Commission to an outdated, adversarial and costly compliance factory just at the time that it is starting to develop a newer, more effective model.

Responding to the consultation

The Government Equalities Office (GEO) consultation was open between 22 March and 15 June 2011.

If you would like to find out more about the consultation please visit the GEO website.

Last Updated: 12 Mar 2014