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EHRC Exposed Part 5: Chairman of ‘impartial’ watchdog probing Labour anti-semitism linked to refugee evictions

THE official investigation into anti-semitism in the Labour Party is under mounting scrutiny as the Morning Star can reveal yet more conflicts of interest at the top of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

In the finale of our five-part series EHRC Exposed we highlight how board members hold what one campaign group called a “deeply alarming” and “wholly inappropriate” set of business interests.

The EHRC’s chairman David Isaac is back in the spotlight as we dig deeper into his other, far more lucrative job as an equity partner at corporate law firm Pinsent Masons where he earns up to £620,000 a year.

The firm is one of only a handful trusted by outsourcing giant Serco to sit on its legal panel and represent its interests.

This relationship swung into action at a recent court case in Scotland where Pinsent Masons successfully defended Serco against an unlawful eviction claim.

The case was filed by two Kurdish women refugees, Shaker Ali and Lana Rashidi, who are among hundreds of asylum-seekers across Glasgow relying on accommodation provided by Serco under a Home Office contract.

Ms Ali says Serco evicted her without any legal process, while Ms Rashidi fears the same fate awaits her too. She believes she suffered a miscarriage because of “the stress and mental anguish caused by the constant threats of eviction from [Serco].”

But the judge dismissed their case after representation by lawyers including Pinsent Masons.

The judgment alarmed the EHRC which issued a press statement saying: “We remain extremely concerned about Serco’s policy of locking people out of their homes without proper processes or safeguards.”

It highlighted the “harsh impact this has on the people affected, leaving them with nowhere to go and in a vulnerable situation on Scotland’s streets” and warned that it could breach human rights law.

Despite this apparent concern the statement made no mention of the fact that the EHRC’s own chairman works for the law firm that defended Serco, although he has recused himself from direct involvement in the litigation.

According to Mr Isaac’s declaration of interests he does not profit from his law firm’s work with “central government or its delivery arm.”

But Labour MSP for Glasgow Pauline McNeill said: “Although the EHRC did rightly condemn the behaviour of Serco it does sit uncomfortably that the law firm who represented Serco was directly linked to the chair of the EHRC.  

“Given the controversy surrounding Serco I can see ongoing difficulties.

“There may not be a direct conflict of interest but the perception may be that it is problematic for EHRC to have any link to Serco’s lawyers.”  

An EHRC spokeswoman rejected any suggestion of a conflict of interest, telling the Star: “All of our board members bring a wealth of experience and have a strong track record of working on equality and human rights and corporate issues.”

But, as her statement suggests, it is not just the chairman of the EHRC that has links to privatisation.

In part three we revealed how another board member, Suzanne Baxter, had served as finance director of outsourcing giant Mitie at a time when Theresa May awarded it multi-million pound contracts to run immigration detention centres at the centre of the hostile environment scandal.

Ms Baxter has also worked for Serco and accountancy giant PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

Attention now turns to three other EHRC board members: Helen Mahy, Mark McLane and Pavita Cooper.

Ms Mahy held a senior role at the National Grid for nearly a decade and now sits on the board of SSE — one of the big six energy companies that Jeremy Corbyn plans to nationalise if he becomes prime minister.

Such a move would likely hit Ms Mahy in the pocket. SSE has paid her £59,900 gross annually since taking on the role in 2015, according to a letter sent by the company.

On Thursday she agreed to carry on with the position.

She is also a director of “healthcare real estate” investor Primary Health Properties.

Mr McLane is another human rights champion with a background in big business.

He served as head of global diversity and inclusion at Barclays until the end of 2018.

His time at the top of the bank coincided with the publication of gender pay gap data revealing that its women employees were paid 56p for every £1 that a man earned — making it one of the worst offenders among Britain’s biggest firms.

And another EHRC board member, Pavita Cooper, counts a three-year stint at oil major Shell on her CV followed by a similar spell at Barclays.

Cat Hobbs, director of public ownership campaign We Own It, told the Morning Star: “It’s deeply alarming that the Equality and Human Rights Commission is so connected to companies who profit from our public services.

“Firms like the National Grid and SSE make money from fuel poverty and fail to invest in our grandchildren’s futures.

“Shell has an atrocious record on human rights.

“Our NHS is being damaged by cutback plans from firms like PwC while Primary Health Properties sees our health as an investment opportunity.

“Serco has shown astonishingly little respect for the rights of patients, schoolchildren, prisoners and asylum-seekers over the years.

“It’s wholly inappropriate for companies like these to be represented in the EHRC in any way. We hope they will think again about their choice of commissioners.”

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