Page last updated at 13:59 GMT, Sunday, 2 August 2009 14:59 UK

Harman defends equalities chief

EHRC Trevor Phillips
Mr Phillips insists the commission is continuing with its work

Equalities minister Harriet Harman has defended the head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, (EHRC) Trevor Phillips.

Six commissioners have left the body in four months and there have been criticisms of Mr Phillip's leadership.

Ms Harman agreed the "turbulent" events at the EHRC were a matter of concern, and urged it to "face outwards" instead of engaging in internal wrangles.

But she insisted she had "full confidence" in Mr Phillips.

She told BBC One's Andrew Marr Show: "Trevor Phillips has been a long-standing champion for equality," "Fighting for equality is a very controversial thing and it can bring you many enemies as well as friends.

"But I have full confidence now that he is going to put the commission on a proper footing and it will face outwards and champion those issues which are so important to so many people, which is equality and fairness.

"I have reappointed him. He has got an important job to get on with and I am sure he will."

'Stronger footing'

Ben Summerskill, of gay rights group Stonewall, was the last resignation, saying Mr Phillips was damaging the cause of equality by staying on.

Auditors have criticised the commission for spending almost £1m on re-employing staff after giving them redundancy.

Ms Harman said: "I think (the Commission) needs to get its act together more strongly, be on a stronger footing, and I am sure Trevor will do that.

"He is not a socialising friend of mine. I have known of his work for many years and I admire his work and I think he has got a massively important job to get on with.

"I don't think you can ever have a chairman of the Equality Commission who is not controversial, otherwise they wouldn't be doing their job. But I do think they need to be looking outwards and that is what they are going to be doing."

The communities and local government committee is set to investigate how the watchdog is run later this year and may ask Mr Phillips to give evidence.

Mr Phillips maintains the organisation's work will not be compromised by the recent high-level departures.

Formerly the head of the Commission for Racial Equality, Mr Phillips remained as chairman when the organisation expanded in 2006 to cover the issues of age, religion and belief, sexual orientation and the promotion of human rights.

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