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Anger over 'culture of racial inequality' at government body

LET GO: Simon Woolley

ANGRY BLACK employees have spoken of a “wide culture of racial inequality” within a Government-backed public body whose mandate is to promote fairness.

Staff members have issued a strong statement condemning the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) for its treatment of black and minority ethnic (BME) staff.

The move follows former EHRC boss Trevor Phillips’ decision to step down from his role earlier this year.

Simon Woolley, the body’s only black commissioner, and Lady Hussein-Ece, the only Muslim commissioner, have lost their positions under the restructure being led by new part-time chairman Baroness O'Neill.

The BME Support Group said in a statement: “We are disappointed with the decision not to reappoint Simon Woolley to the EHRC's board of commissioners, but are not completely surprised.

REJECTION

“We consider his rejection as symptomatic of a wider culture of racial inequality which prevails within the EHRC; a culture which is leading to the loss of two thirds BME staff at the end of this month.”

The statement added that many staff were leaving without jobs to go to.
Tottenham MP David Lammy, chair of the parliamentary group on race and community, called the decision not to consider Woolley for an interview “unfathomable”, adding “it confirms deep fears … that the commission is turning its back on race issues.”

Woolley, also chief executive of lobby group Operation Black Vote (OBV), was invited to reapply for his job but was unsuccessful. His contract expires in December.

The Department for Media, Culture and Sport (DCMS) who oversee the body said it would be “inappropriate” to comment on the decision with a recruitment process ongoing.

It said the diversity of potential candidates was being monitored at every stage of the application process.

The commission is facing a severely downsized budget because of cuts to public spending. The government has earmarked a budget of £26.8m for 2014-15, a 62 percent cut to its 2007 budget of £70m.

In October, officials from the United Nations warned the body could lose it’s A-list status, which would mean that the UK could no longer fully participate in the UN human rights council or work within the international coordinating committee.

The group also observed that moves towards a “holistic approach to equality was masking the inequality faced particularly by people of African descent.”

It was a reference to the decision to merge the Commission for Racial Equality with other equality groups in 2007 to form the present day Equalities and Human Rights Commission.

A DCMS spokesperson said: “The EHRC plays a vital part in tackling the barriers to equal opportunity that hold individuals and our economy back, and the government is firmly committed to ensuring it retains its role as Great Britain's independent equality body and A-rated national human rights institution.

The spokesperson added: “Since its creation (the EHRC) has, at times, struggled to deliver across its wide remit, and to demonstrate that it is delivering real value for money. That is why we are implementing a package of reforms including strengthening the commission’s governance and introducing tighter controls over its performance to give it a much clearer focus make it more accountable.”

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