The Comptroller and Auditor General has qualified the accounts of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) because the EHRC re-engaged, without Treasury authority, seven former senior employees of the former Commission for Racial Equality who had left that body under a voluntary early severance scheme.
The EHRC, established in April 2006 and operational from the beginning of October 2007, took over the responsibilities of three ‘legacy’ equality Commissions: the Commission for Racial Equality; the Disability Rights Commission; and the Equal Opportunities Commission. The EHRC faced difficulties from the beginning as it did not have enough staff to plan and manage the start up effectively.
As at 1 October 2007, it had a shortfall of 140 staff out of an agreed complement of 525, with particular problems at senior staff level – with only 10 of the agreed complement of 25 directors in place. The severity of the shortfall arose partly because some 180 staff left the legacy commissions under voluntary early severance programmes. The EHRC had little influence over which legacy Commission staff left under these schemes, and to try and resolve some of its key staffing difficulties it re-engaged without a break in service seven staff members who had left under the voluntary exit schemes.
The EHRC incurred costs of £629,276 in respect of the severance costs of these individuals, but, on returning to the Commission, these staff received between them consultancy fees of £323,708. The Treasury had not authorised in advance the payments to re-engage these staff, and refused to do so retrospectively because it did not consider that the payments represented value for money. In particular, the Treasury expressed concern about the level of the salaries paid to the re-engaged staff and raised the possibility that the re-engaged staff should have repaid their severance payments.