Equality Bill 'gives sector edge over business'

Charities fulfilling government contracts may have to prove social equality benefits, says legal expert

Charities could be better placed than companies to win public sector contracts as a result of proposals in the Equality Bill, according to David Hunt, an employment lawyer and partner at law firm Farrer & Co.

Proposals in the bill, which was introduced to Parliament last week by Harriet Harman, the leader of the House of Commons, could require charities and businesses commissioned by government bodies to adhere to the same duty of working to reduce social inequality as public sector bodies.

This could lead to a requirement that all employees in commissioned services be offered flexible working terms, or to pre-qualification assessments that would examine how effective would-be providers had been at promoting equality in their organisations.

Hunt said the change could give charities the edge over businesses when bidding to run public services.

"The Government is trying to use its purchasing power to pass on the public sector's equality duties to charities and businesses," he said. "That could mean charities would be best placed to win contracts from the public sector.

"Charities already do a lot of work in this area, such as monitoring their employment of ethnic minorities, and they will be well placed when this change comes in."

The bill would give UK, Scottish and Welsh ministers the power to decide how to implement the new public procurement rules, which would apply to councils, primary care trusts and government departments.

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