The chair of Parliament's influential Joint Committee on Human Rights, Harriet Harman QC MP, has acted on our concerns over the national equalities and human rights helpline.
In September we and 40 other organisations have raised concerns about the process of choosing corporation G4S to operate the Equality Advisory and Support Service (EASS). LCN has also taken legal action to try to stop the handing over of EASS to G4S, which the High Court refused. Following that, G4S took over the operation of EASS on 1 October.
As we have said at the time, there was more to challenge about the process and outcome of provider selection. Now that G4S operates EASS on a budget that is 25% smaller, we are concerned about the quality of service and how closely and openly it is monitored.
Ms Harman has already written to the Education Secretary Justine Greening MP, also the Minister for Women and Equalities, for clarifications on how the EASS operator was chosen.
We have also shared with her committee material about our legal action and, with charity Liberty, made suggestions on the ways in which they could scrutinise EASS operation.
Following this, Ms Harman has yesterday written again to the Education Secretary to find out just how EASS performance is being monitored by the government; how its quality of advice is monitored; and what statistics we can expect to be published regularly about it.
Ms Harman has also written to the chair of national watchdog, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, which is now on the helpline's board. David Isaac was asked for evidence on the G4S selection and how the process could be improved; on EASS' transition from its old provider to G4S; and on the running and performance of the service now.
Nimrod Ben-Cnaan, our head of policy and profile, commented:
We thank the Joint Committee on Human Rights for their keen interest in this matter. There is ample evidence of the devastation of advice and legal support services by government's legal aid cuts. Against this background, it is vitally important to ensure that EASS operate, as Ms Harman has put it, "an accessible, confidence-building helpline service".
We will continue its efforts on this issue and will update on developments.