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Wednesday, 7 August, 2002, 14:21 GMT 15:21 UK
What now for race equality body?
A CRE campaign poster
The CRE has campaigned for greater equality

Gurbux Singh's resignation at the head of the Commission for Racial Equality is a blow for the body often caught up in controversy.

Gurbux Singh's resignation as chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality will be seen as a blow for the UK's leading race relations body.

The organisation was set up to tackle racial discrimination and promote equality, and recently celebrated its 25th anniversary.

But the resignation will inevitably lead to a period of uncertainty with his deputy, Beverley Bernard, taking over for now.

Beset by controversies

Gurbux Singh headed a body that had special legal powers to investigate allegations of racial discrimination and, in some cases, take legal action.

Gurbux Singh arrives at court in London
Gurbux Singh: Held quasi-judicial powers
It was clear he could not have held on to the post after he pleaded guilty to a charge of threatening behaviour towards police officers at Lords cricket ground.

Mr Singh's two-year tenure has been rocky, largely because of the highly political nature of the job. The CRE is a state body - yet part of its remit is to challenge the prevailing view.

There are some race campaigners who say that it has not been prepared in recent years to truly take on the government over sensitive issues such as asylum seekers.

On taking office, Gurbux Singh inherited of the government's decision to strengthen race relations legislation and the CRE in the wake of the murder of Stephen Lawrence.

While this was seen as a major boost to the CRE's place in government and society, the organisation has remained beset by controversies at a time when race relations, immigration and equality have been right at the top of the political agenda.

One of the first issues that Mr Singh had to deal with was the collapse of an international racism conference, organised by the CRE and backed by the prime minister.

A report by Mr Singh identified basic failings in the running of the organisation which led to a reported loss of 750,000 of tax payers' money.

During the run-up to the 2001 general election, the CRE became embroiled in a political row when it called on MPs to sign a pact not to bring race issues into the campaign.

Many Conservative MPs, including Michael Portillo, attacked the pledge as "counterproductive". Some described the CRE's actions as little short of blackmail.

Earlier this year, the head of the Prison Service, Martin Narey, attacked the CRE for dragging out a report into racism in jails.

'Rational voice'

The CRE deputy chair, Beverley Bernard, said one of Gurbux Singh's major achievements had been his "rational voice" within an organisation that needed to work more closely with other bodies.

Beverley Bernard, acting head of CRE
Beverley Bernard: Acting head of CRE
That has also been a source of criticism. In the months after the riots in northern towns last year, Mr Singh said the key issue was segregated communities and the more controversial subject of how minorities integrate with the rest of society.

Some campaigners reacted angrily, saying the CRE chairman had failed to challenge the government over the role played by unemployment, low achievement and social break-down.

But Shahid Malik, another former member of the commission, said that Mr Singh had ultimately become a "large liability" for the CRE. He would ultimately be remembered for his behaviour at Lords rather than anything at the commission.

"He's been there for two years and there's sadly nothing that you can point at," he told BBC News Online.

"The most significant achievement [the strengthening of its powers] happened before he arrived. His job was to just to get on with it. There is short term damage to the CRE but it will bounce back."

Changes ahead

The home secretary will advertise the post and will probably fill it within six months - but the long-term future for the CRE is unclear.

The government is moving towards merging the various equality bodies (race, sex and disability) into a new organisation, perhaps with more powers than before.

The CRE has fallen in behind this idea and is advocating its own demise, something that would end one of the most important chapters in the history of British race relations.

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