Andreas Whittam Smith: In no other business would Trevor Phillips survive

Only in politics, at least in the corrupt system we have, could it happen

Share
Related Topics

The auditors refuse to sign off the accounts of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The Treasury declines to approve certain financial transactions. And the chief executive and four non-executive Commissioners leave the board in quick succession. In these disturbing circumstances, the chair, Trevor Phillips, comes up for re-appointment and what happens? Harriet Harman, the Equalities minister, gives him a second term!

I have added the exclamation mark because nowhere outside government would Mr Phillips have stood the remotest chance of hanging on to his position. Naturally this wouldn't have taken place in a business setting where jobs and capital are at risk. Nor would such blithe disregard of warning signs have occurred in the world of charities. Only in politics, or at least only in the worn-out, corrupt political system that we now have, can this happen.

I naturally looked at the list of ministers running the small government department, the Equalities Office, over which Harriet Harman presides. For if rot is being allowed to flourish unchecked at the Commission, then one must look at the supervisory body to see whether it is also infected. The Equalities Office has four ministers in charge of only just over 100 staff. This ministerial overstaffing is deliberately done to swell the Government payroll vote in the House of Commons. This is one of the games politicians play.

I also looked to see what "use" the four ministers had made of the parliamentary expenses system. Maria Eagle, the Minister of State at the tiny department, claimed £3,500 towards refurbishing a bathroom at her constituency home in Liverpool in 2005 and then four months later changed her nominated second home to a flat in south London with higher mortgage interest charges.

Vera Baird, Solicitor General who leads on the Equalities Bill, tried to get taxpayers to foot a £286 bill for her Christmas tree and decorations. Fortunately even the Fees Office could see that this was a try-on and refused to pay. So neither Ms Eagle nor Ms Baird would be my first choices as guardians of taxpayers' money.

I can only assume that when deciding on Mr Phillips' future, Ms Harman and her ministerial colleagues studied the question of how it was that the Commission spent almost £325,000 on re-employing seven executives who had recently left one of its predecessor bodies with generous redundancy packages.

This is a reference to the fact that the Commission is the product of a merger of what were three separate Government units covering racial equality, sex discrimination and disability rights. What seems to have happened is that some of the staff made redundant when their original employers ceased to operate pocketed their compensation and then immediately moved to the successor body. The Treasury commented that these re-engagement salaries were significantly higher than they had received before.

Even if it was proper to re-engage staff in such circumstances, why would it be necessary to pay them more? And this is the burden of the Treasury's second comment: "There was insufficient evidence to demonstrate that re-engaging staff provided value for money compared to other options." The Treasury went further in its criticisms: "There was insufficient evidence to support the view that the Commission fully considered the pension and tax liabilities of re-engaging staff."

Mr Phillips would say, presumably, that as chairman he did not directly appoint junior staff and fix their salaries. And he will have a chance to make this point to the powerful Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons when Parliament resumes work in the late autumn. But it won't wash as an excuse. The chairman appoints the chief executive and has the ultimate responsibility.

The Commission was born in chaos. As the National Audit Office commented: "Delays in bringing in resources sufficiently quickly meant that, when it started doing its job, it lacked more than half of its complement of directors." And in turn this shortage weakened the Commission's ability to develop a clear business strategy, agree an organisational design and ensure effective operational management was in place.

I am more critical of Ms Harman than of Mr Phillips. The story gives off a strong smell of incompetence and a whiff of corruption and yet the minister doesn't appear to have noticed. This is probably because the same odours pervade our entire political system.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Sales Manager

£60k - 80k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Politics of hope needed to avert flight to margins

Liam Fox
 

Cameron's speech was an attempt to kill immigration as an election issue

Andrew Grice
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game