Women to get new champion

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A WOMAN who has worked for racial equality is set to be put in charge of women's rights.

David Blunkett, the Education and Employment Secretary, is expected to announce shortly that Julie Mellor, a member of the Commission for Racial Equality, is to be the new head of the Equal Opportunities Commission.

It is understood that Harriet Harman, the former social security secretary, was approached about the job but turned it down in order to pursue her career in the House of Commons.

Ms Mellor, 41, an independent, equal-opportunities consultant, is now the favourite for the job after interviews last week.

She was the head of human resources at British Gas before going freelance several years ago. She is now one of two commissioners formally investigating Hackney Borough Council for the Commission for Racial Equality. She is examining allegations that the council committed several breaches of the Race Relations Act.

She had a high-flying business career before entering public sector work. Ministers were keen to appoint somebody with commercial experience who could sharpen up the act of the EOC. They believe vigorous pursuit of women's concerns should be done in a modern way rather than harping back to "1970's feminism".

Ms Mellor is a member of the Confederation of British Industry's equality opportunities panel, a member of Business in the Community and a former member of the National Advisory Council on the employment of people with disabilities.

A spokesman for the Commission for Racial Equality said she was a "very effective" operator who had managed to force through change in her various jobs. "She has fronted up various things we have done, she is practical, down-to-earth, and very straightforward with a strong record in human resources work for business."