What will a single equality commission mean in practice?

To what extent will employers be involved with the Commission in the latter stages of its creation and once it is up and running? Employers are keen to know they won’t be ignored.

If the CEHR is to succeed in its overall mission, it will need to develop the trust and confidence of employers, as it will with other stakeholders. Employers are a key stakeholder group, as the White Paper makes clear.  

Employers must be effectively engaged throughout the process towards establishing the CEHR. This includes ensuring that their perspectives are represented on the CEHR board, and through its advisory and delivery structures, once the new commission has been established.

The CEHR Task Force was set up to help advise Government on the White Paper and, for example, includes representatives from the CBI and the Small Business Council. Employers will also be engaged in the work of the steering group that will take the next stages of this project forward.

Will there be high-profile campaigns that threaten employers?

A single authoritative equality body will be better placed than the existing commissions to carry out high-profile campaigns and be at the heart of major debates. But, if it is to deliver for employers, the CEHR will need to work in partnership with business wherever possible, promoting improved equality awareness and better practice across the private sector. Moreover, the CEHR will have a duty to consult on the aims and priorities that inform its campaigns.

The CEHR will have both promotional and regulatory functions. And it will be expected to make full use of the range of its powers to work flexibly with businesses that want to achieve legal compliance, including dealing with ‘rogue’ firms that wilfully avoid complying with the law.

It will adhere to the Government’s Enforcement Concordat, which asserts the importance of principles such as proportionality and openness in determining enforcement activity.

To what extent will the CEHR be a replication of existing bodies?

The existing commissions – the Commission for Racial Equality, the Disability Rights Commission and the Equal Opportunities Commission – have helped transform society’s attitude to equality and discrimination. The progress we have made so far is a tribute to their staff and boards, past and present. The change in outlook they have helped bring about and the changing nature of the challenges we must overcome mean that our institutions must evolve as well.

But change is not happening quickly enough, and more of the same will not be enough to respond to the challenges we seek at the pace necessary. That is why the CEHR will be a new body with new powers and duties, including a new duty to consult stakeholders, regional arrangements and powers to promote human rights, as well as promote good practice and enforce the laws covering sexual orientation, religion and belief and age.

Will the creation of the CEHR result in increased bureaucracy?

A single body should bring benefits rather than bureaucracy. The creation of the CEHR responds to the strong calls from the business sector for a more joined-up approach to these issues.

A single organisation will be better able to meet the needs of employers and service providers, providing a single coherent access point to information, and advice and guidance on the full breadth of equality and human rights issues.

It will also benefit individuals seeking advice and support, and agencies and organisations that provide advice. Through this cross-cutting approach, the CEHR will be better able to tackle barriers and inequalities that affect us all.

Is it possible for the CEHR to be all things to all people?

Equality and human rights underpin the Government’s vision of a modern, fairer, and more prosperous Britain. Delivering prosperity for all means harnessing the skills and potential of every member of society, whatever their background. These are real challenges in our society and our economy. Equality and human rights are the concerns of all of us – not just a minority.

But the CEHR cannot be all things for all people, and nor should it try to be. The CEHR will be expected to work in partnership to maximise the impact of the services it provides. It will respond to demand for advice to be delivered via trusted and known routes, and will work regionally, and with sector-based organisations. This will help ensure the CEHR operates strategically, delivering the greatest possible benefit to the widest range of groups.

HR values the expertise that exists in the present bodies. Will the CEHR sacrifice this for more generalists?

The existing commissions are an important resource of expertise, experience and knowledge for the CEHR and their skills and experience will be a key ingredient in ensuring a smooth process to the establishment of the CEHR and beyond.

There is also expertise in voluntary organisations, especially in the new areas of discrimination legislation (sexual orientation, religion and belief and age), from which the CEHR will benefit. And we should not forget the experience of progressive employers and HR professionals who are delivering change beyond the requirements of the law.

The CEHR will need to capture and learn from all these sources. The Government is committed to a well-managed transition process, and is setting up a steering group to take these issues forward.

How much of a barrier to the CEHR’s creation is the opposition from the Disability Rights Commission, the Commission for Racial Equality and the Employers Forum on Age?

The consultation following the release of Fairness for All [the White Paper on the single equality commission], officially closed on 6 August. More than 450 responses have been received from a wide variety of stakeholders, interested groups and individuals.

The Government is currently assessing all the responses it has received in detail, and will be making its response in the autumn. It will continue to use an open and inclusive approach to working with key stakeholders to address concerns.

No organisation has a veto on the proposals for the new commission. We are listening carefully, but as Patricia Hewitt has recently stated: “We are fully committed to the creation of a single equality and human rights commission, which we believe will help create a more equal and cohesive society”, comments echoed by David Blunkett, the home secretary.

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