By Dr Phil Edwards
Here’s some good news – only to be found in the Guardian!
That much maligned rag reports (January 25th) that staff at Public Enemy Number One - the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) have began moving out of the expensive glass-fronted riverside offices they have occupied since the body's creation in 2007, to smaller premises in an unfashionable concrete block, recently the subject of demolition proposals.
The EHRC is also having its annual budget cut from £70m to £17m, with a smaller board of commissioners, but the new offices will still have desks for 207 full-time members of staff, less than half the original headcount of 525.
According to the Guardian, supporters of the institution are concerned that the huge cut to the budget reflects the government's broader impatience with the equalities agenda.
Let us hope so.
Campaigners point to parallel changes to equalities legislation being debated in the Lords, which they say will both reduce the power of the EHRC and remove new obligations on public organisations to act to prevent discrimination. (Recently the Lords were able to have the term “Insulting” removed from section 5 of the Public Order Act).
Herman Ouseley, formerly boss of the Race Equality Council (forerunner of the EHRC) said last year it was a "tragedy" that most of the people it was set up to support would not notice if it ceased to exist.
Sarah Veale, the TUC's very annoying head of equality and human rights and one of the EHRC's more vocal new commissioners, agreed: "It is really worrying that the government's attitude to equality legislation is that it is an obstacle to business being able to flourish."
Veale is optimistic about the EHRC's future but recognised how vulnerable it had become. "We realise how close to the edge it is," she said. "It has been given a ninth life.It is probably only still there because the government realised that it had an obligation under human rights law and European law to maintain it. I wonder whether, if it wasn't for that, it would just have been wound up."
And there’s more good news - a series of proposed changes to equality law are causing unease amongst the lefties.
The coalition has launched a review of the new Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED), which requires public bodies to have "due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination" and "advance equality of opportunity".
It's time all this expensive nonsense was totally eliminated, but I sense – thanks to the Guardian’s angst – we are gradually getting there.