by David Isaac
Published: 21 Mar 2017
Equality and Human Rights Commission Chair David Isaac wrote to a number of race equality organisations to highlight our deep commitment to greater race equality and a more cohesive society.
This is in response to their letter seeking assurance that the Commission’s work and workforce reflects the diversity of our society.
Thank you for your letter of 3 March. I welcome the significance you attach to the Commission’s role in relation to future fairness in Britain and your interest in ensuring that the Commission is as effective as possible. I also appreciate your references to our work on hate crime and to our national report on tackling race inequality in Great Britain, which reflect our deep commitment to promoting greater race equality and creating a more cohesive society. Our organisations have shared objectives and it is important that we work together, where possible, with a common understanding.
I agree with you that the Commission’s workforce must reflect the diversity of our society, including BAME [Black, Asian and minority ethnic] and disabled staff. You may be interested to learn that 84% of our staff report as white against 89% of civil service staff, and 19.75% of our staff report as disabled, against a comparable statistic of 6.32% in the civil service. The diversity of our workforce is rightly important to us. I do, however, agree that the Commission must do more than simply comply with legal requirements. Our new operating model commits us to do just that.
Having made these points, I would like to turn to our staff re-organisation as I am keen that you understand the context in which this is taking place. In October 2017, the Commission will be ten years old. When the EHRC was first established nobody could have predicted how much the world would change or anticipated the new challenges we would face. Our organisation’s role is more important than ever and that means our core skills and the way we work must change too. As such, our remit has been altered, our budget has been reduced significantly and the context of our work is changing rapidly in light of the UK’s decision to leave the EU and debates about the legal framework for human rights. At the same time our evidence shows entrenched inequality has deepened.
It is therefore understandable that many of our partners urge us to speed up progress and increase our impact. We agree with them. We want to be an even more muscular regulator and, as a result, we have made changes to strengthen our rapid response investigations team. We also want to build on our reputation as an expert, evidence-based authoritative body, whose research on equality and human rights is seen as second to none. We must also adapt to the digital world and understand how best to influence attitudes and behaviours.
We must obviously be focused on delivering outcomes that improve society. This means we need to adapt to manage budget cuts. We also need to ensure that we possess the right skills and experience. Responding to both these challenges is not easy but I believe that a failure to reform to meet these demands would significantly damage equality and human rights in Britain, as well as our ability to fulfil our mission.
We have taken every step we can to ensure that our change programme is in no way discriminatory or in any way targets people or undermines trade unionism or individual rights. All decisions were based on whether individuals have the right skills and experience and certainly not on background or protected characteristic. Our process was fair, robust and transparent.
In making changes, however, we know we have a duty to manage cuts and make changes in a responsible and careful way. This includes valuing diversity and providing a stronger pathway into senior roles for our BAME and disabled staff. I am pleased to say that we have put in place an ambitious programme of positive action which is already producing results. This includes shortlists for external senior appointments with a threshold set at 50% BAME candidates (which has already seen the successful appointment of a BAME applicant); targets to increase the representation of disabled and BAME staff in senior roles; supporting staff to take part in the civil service positive action scheme and ring-fencing part of our learning and development budget to support people from underrepresented groups. If signatories to your letter might be willing to publicise our vacancies among their organisations’ networks, this would be much appreciated.
It is perhaps worth saying that we have been very disappointed by some inaccurate reporting of our reforms. I would therefore like to address a number of other points in your letter.
- Of the eleven members of staff who are subject to compulsory redundancy, five are from a BAME background rather than the eight mentioned in your letter. This number is still larger than we would have hoped but, as set out above, we are now taking steps to address BAME representation in our work force.
- It is wrong to say staff were sacked by email without any notice. The reorganisation has been a long process and face to face meetings took place over many months, including notifying people at risk when their redundancy letters would be issued. It is a matter of regret that the union deliberately chose to call people out on strike on the day when redundancy notices were due.
- In terms of the people who have been made compulsorily redundant, we are very grateful for their contribution to the Commission and have not said they have no skills. As outlined above, the nature of our work has changed and we now need different skills to those we needed in the past.
As I hope this letter explains, even though our approach has been criticised in some quarters, we believe that it has been fair and transparent. Nevertheless, we are committed to going further to promote improved talent and diversity in our workforce and welcome the opportunity to discuss your concerns when we meet on 27 March.
In a subsequent email we were asked for some additional information, which we will forward as soon as possible and in advance of our meeting.