Equality head under fire for `dictatorial' style

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The Independent Online
THE Equal Opportunities Commission has agreed an internal code of conduct following allegations about the "authoritarian" management style of chairwoman Kamlesh Bahl, the Independent on Sunday has learned.

Ms Bahl, the Prime Minister's personal choice as head of the Commission, has been accused of a dictatorial approach, leading to a high turnover of staff. Five members of her personal office have reportedly sought moves to other jobs at various times. The Commission chairwoman has been accused of being "extremely negative" and subjecting them to "constant criticism".

The allegations, which have also been made against other senior figures at the Commission, are especially embarrassing to the EOC because of its role in promoting equitable and sensitive management practices and its campaign against harassment.

Ms Bahl, however, said that the Commission had simply endorsed a code of conduct based on the Nolan Committee recommendations. She said it would form a voluntary endorsement of general principles that should obtain in public life and that the Commission was at the "leading edge" in this regard. "It is a measure of how seriously we take it," she said.

"Every month there is a different allegation against me. I can't comment on allegations against any individual."

Commission officials agreed in January to establish a code of conduct for management, but said that legal advice prevented them from extending the agreement to commissioners themselves. After "acrimonious" discussions, however, it was agreed that one code should cover management at the EOC and that the government-appointed commissioners would be the subject of a separate charter.

One source conceded that it is Ms Bahl's "style of management rather than its content" which may be at fault. "It's one thing to order a rewrite of a report, quite another to bawl someone out in front of other people. She does overreact sometimes, especially when ministers or the Press are involved."

Since her appointment three years ago, Ms Bahl has attempted to introduce a more focused approach on the part of her internal advisers, but has occasionally encountered resistance. Her politics - she is a former Conservative activist - and her closeness to ministers have not endeared her to the majority of Commission employees. Her insistence that the EOC should emphasise the economic and business benefits of equal opportunities rather than civil liberties has also met internal opposition.

Her recent reappointment for another three years has caused considerable anger among Opposition politicians. Michael Meacher, Labour's employment spokesman, has declared that an incoming Blair government would "review" her position. Mr Meacher was not consulted over the post and he argues that it is conventional to do so near an election.

Ms Bahl said that she had attempted to introduce a new atmosphere at the Commission which included a closer partnership between commissioners and staff.

"We have a strong team here. There is complete openness and we are now trying to set out the principles on which we work," she said.

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