Home Secretary goes into battle with Trevor Phillips

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The Independent Online

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has been handed a hefty fine by the Home Secretary for failing to meet a deadline.

Theresa May has written to the commission's chairman, Trevor Phillips, informing him that he will have £200,000 less to spend in next year's budget because the Commission had missed a "critical milestone" by failing to produce a series of guidelines in time.

The move is on top of cuts imposed on the EHRC as part of the Government's cross-Whitehall savings programme and represents another embarrassing setback for the watchdog.

The Commission had been asked by the Government Equalities Office to draw up guidelines on the Equalities Act, an enormous 250-page document which was passed by the previous government and wrapped up more than 40 years of equalities legislation in a single Bill.

To make it easier for individuals and companies to understand the Act, the EHRC was tasked with drawing up some publicly accessible guidelines by the middle of July so that new laws could be implemented by October. The guidelines would allow employers to check whether they would be up to date and compliant with the new legislation when it came in.

But the Government Equalities Office claims it has been forced to ask its own staff to draw up its own guidance because the EHRC was not going to meet its target. This effectively means that taxpayers have had to pay twice for the same guidance.

Last night Neil Kingham, director general of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said it was on course to hand over the guidelines by 12 July, as requested.

"The Equality Act is one of the most wide-ranging pieces of legislation of the last few years and it's essential that the guidance which accompanies it is comprehensive and accurate," he said. "We have carried out a vital consultation process with a large number of stakeholders in order to produce guidance on the entire Act to suit individuals and organisations."

Mr Phillips has faced repeated criticism, particularly over the past year, about the way that the EHRC is run. Six of the body's commissioners resigned last year, complaining that the board was dysfunctional, that members felt intimidated by Mr Phillips and that he had a conflict of interest with a consultancy firm.