Page last updated at 08:59 GMT, Wednesday, 29 July 2009 09:59 UK

Deputy defends equalities chief

Trevor Phillips
Mr Phillips has been re-appointed for a second three-year term

The spate of resignations at the UK's equalities watchdog is not the fault of under-fire chairman Trevor Phillips, his deputy has told the BBC.

Six commissioners left the Equality and Human Rights Commission in four months amid calls for Mr Phillips to quit.

But deputy chairman Baroness Prosser said criticisms of his leadership style were "wide of the mark".

Some commissioners may have been "miffed" at being told they would have to reapply for their posts, she added.

The EHRC began work in October 2007, having taken on the work of the old Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), the Disability Rights Commission and the Equal Opportunities Commission.

'Not successful'

Earlier this month Mr Phillips and Lady Prosser were reappointed as chairman and deputy but remaining commissioners were told they would have to reapply for their posts, which are being reduced from 16 to 11.

The latest to quit was gay rights campaigner Ben Summerskill, who said Mr Phillips was damaging the cause of equality by staying on, saying he had "not been successful in running the commission and bringing it together".

The disability lobby has always been cross that disability was brought into the commission in the first place
Baroness Prosser
Deputy chair, EHRC

Earlier this month human rights researcher Professor Francesca Klug and disability campaigners Sir Bert Massie and Lady Campbell quit.

These departures followed the resignations in March of the commission's chief executive Nicola Brewer and commissioner Kay Hampton.

But Baroness Prosser told the BBC nine commissioners remained who "remain very supportive of Trevor as chair" and those who had left had "different reasons" for doing so.

"The disability lobby has always been cross that disability was brought into the commission in the first place," she said.

"They wanted things to remain separate and have never felt comfortable with the agenda of the equality commission covering all strands of inequality."

'Deep discontentment'

She noted that three resignations came on the day commissioners were told they would have to reapply for their positions.

"It's interesting that they decided to go on that particular day. Who am I to say what their thinking was at that time?," she said.

She said there had been "long discussions" about the commission's "governance", in which it had been agreed the board needed to be reduced in size and changed in composition.

"Everyone agreed that in theory but obviously when it comes to practice and it comes to themselves people felt miffed I imagine," she said.

In an article for the Guardian last week, ex-commissioner Kay Hampton said Mr Phillips' leadership style was "better suited to a political party than a human rights organisation" and had "led to deep discontentment and dissatisfaction".

But Lady Prosser said she had not complained about Mr Phillips when she resigned in March, and had said at the time she had too much work to do and make the journey from Scotland to London.

"She never said any of the things at that stage that she is saying now, much of which is very far wide of the mark."

Asked if Mr Phillips would be doing any interviews, she added: "I don't know if he will or not and in a way why should he? None of this is his doing."

The Commons communities and local government committee is set to look into what has been happening at the EHRC when MPs return after the summer recess in October.

One of its Labour members, Emily Thornberry, said it was "clearly in trouble".

The joint human rights committee is also reportedly considering a separate inquiry.

The National Audit Office also criticised the commission for re-employing senior staff from its predecessor bodies, soon after they had been given generous redundancy payments.

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