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Phillips to leave equality watchdog

The head of the equality watchdog, Trevor Phillips, is to leave his post after six years, it has been confirmed.

Phillips has faced repeated criticism during his two three-year terms as chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

His decision not to seek a third term was revealed in a foreword to the commission’s new strategic plan. The plan also reveals that – due to drastic cuts in its budget – staffing levels at the EHRC are set to fall from 420 to between 150 and 180.

Two years ago, the parliamentary joint committee on human rights said “major questions” remained over Phillips’ leadership, following a series of resignations by commissioners.

Two disabled commissioners, Baroness [Jane] Campbell and Sir Bert Massie, had been among those who resigned in 2009 over concerns at his leadership.

Phillips also faced criticism in a report by the public accounts committee in March 2010. More recently, he had appeared on a collision course with the coalition, after arguing last year that its plans for reform risked turning the EHRC into an “anonymous, cowed, nit-picking compliance factory, remote from the everyday challenges that face ordinary people”.

The Government Equalities Office had laid out plans to slash the commission’s budget and reduce its powers, remove funding for its grants programme, and ask the private or voluntary sector to take over its national helpline.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “Trevor Phillips’ appointment as the chair of the EHRC ends in September 2012. The government are looking for an appropriate successor. It was Mr Phillips’ decision to leave.” She declined to comment further.

An EHRC spokeswoman said: “As I understand it, he is not seeking another term.” She also declined to comment further.

The EHRC’s budget is set to fall to £26.8 million by the end of 2015, compared with £70 million when it launched in 2007, and it warns in the plan that this will mean “significant” changes.

The strategic plan lays out the EHRC’s three “strategic priorities” for the next three years.

The first is to promote fairness and equality of opportunity in the economy, such as tackling the causes of the “pay gap” between the salaries of disabled and non-disabled people, and ensuring decisions by the government and the public and private sector “take full account of equality and human rights”. 

It also wants to promote fair access to public services, including “dignity and autonomy” in social care.

Its third priority will be “promoting dignity and respect and ensuring people’s safety”, including a programme to reduce disability-related bullying in schools and workplaces, and tracking the implementation of recommendations from its well-received inquiry into disability-related harassment.

The plan says legal action will continue to be the EHRC’s “last resort, when nudge, persuasion and advice have not proved effective”, and that it will have to move from providing direct services such as a helpline and grants to being “a catalyst for change and improvement”.

News provided by John Pring at