Trevor Phillips, chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), came under intense pressure to resign last night, as the veteran equalities campaigner and Liberal Democrat peer Lord Dholakia said he had lost the confidence of ethnic minority groups and called on the Government to bring in a troubleshooter to turn the organisation around.
The attack comes at the end of a week in which the organisation has suffered criticism over the state of its finances. Some of the country's most respected race, disability and human rights equalities campaigners are so concerned at the way that the EHRC is being run that they have resigned rather than remain as commissioners.
On Friday the prominent gay rights campaigner Ben Summerskill became the latest to go – the fourth to resign in little over a week. The resignations followed the announcement earlier this month that Mr Phillips had been reappointed for a further three years. So far, six commissioners have resigned since March. It is understood that another commissioner, Baroness Greengross, is seriously considering her position.
Lord Dholakia said: "Mr Phillips has lost the confidence of the black and Asian community," and added: "I don't think he's brought with him the administrative experience that is necessary to run an organisation with a £75m budget and I think the job is probably too big for him."
Failings in management and administration are so fundamental that the Government should bring in Lord Ouseley, former head of the Commission for Racial Equality (CRC), the forerunner of the EHRC, the peer said. "I can think of no better person to reorganise the commission and bring it to its proper footing. In the meantime if Trevor Phillips were to take a back seat, so much the better."
Mr Summerskill also called on Mr Phillips to resign: "If the organisation is to start doing what it's designed to do then it needs someone else in charge. He has shown himself unable to run a large public body. The common theme is leadership and governance – how you do things appropriately with public money."
Concerns over Mr Phillips's leadership have been growing for months. But the past few days has seen him embarrassed by a critical National Audit Office (NAO) report that revealed nearly £1m of taxpayers' money was spent on generous redundancy packages for senior staff at the CRE who were then given lucrative consultancy contracts at the EHRC.
The financial problems afflicting the organisation are far from resolved, according to Mr Summerskill. In his resignation letter to Harriet Harman, the minister for women and equality, on Friday, he said that Mr Phillips's reappointment meant that "as chair of the commission's audit and risk committee I would feel entirely unable to offer future reassurance to the National Audit Office that the commission was being led and the commission's affairs conducted with appropriate probity."
An EHRC spokeswoman described the Mr Summerskill's departure as "regrettable". She added: "As the NAO recognised, the commission has improved its internal governance arrangements so that it is on a robust footing."
In response to Lord Dholakia, she said: "The commission is working hard with all stakeholders. We simply do not recognise Lord Dholakia's description."
The six who have stepped down
The former diplomat resigned in March as chief executive, days after suggesting that equal pay reviews should not be mandatory during a recession.
Disillusionment led to her resignation in April. She claimed the EHRC is being run by fear and paranoia.
Lady Jane Campbell
Her resignation this month prompted government minister Maria Eagle to describe her departure as "a loss for the commission".
Professor Francesca Klug
Human rights expert and director of the Human Rights Futures Project, who cited "problems of leadership and governance".
Sir Bert Massie
Resigned on 18 July and told Harriet Harman: "I cannot agree with the way in which the commission is led."
Gay rights campaigner and chief executive of Stonewall resigned on Friday.Reuse content