A Labour councillor in Kensington and Chlesea, Cllr Todd Foreman, has sent a memo to Conservative councillors on the Conservative run Council demanding they pay £2,000 to Stonewall – a fee for being "Diversity Champions." For their money they would get some top tips on monitoring the sexual orientation of their staff.
Cllr Foreman says:
A number of authorities indicate that it is best practice to monitor sexual orientation in relation to employees, just as the Council does with respect to race, gender, age and disability. The Government Equalities Office has indicated that it is desirable (though not mandatory) for public bodies to monitor employee data on sexual orientation and religion.
He is encouraged that the Equalities Office said in August 2010 that public bodies employing over 150 staff had to publish equality data on their workforce:
“We recognise that some public bodies may not yet have achieved a culture in which employees are ready to be asked to provide personal information about matters such as their sexual orientation or religion or belief, although it is encouraging that it is becoming more common for public sector employees to agree to their employers seeking this information.”
In other words Stonewall and Cllr Forman are asking for something the Government does not require. Why the Equalities Minister Theresa May should regard gathering sexual orientation data as even something that is "encouraging" is a matter for her to explain. What tangible benefit does she believe such data provides? The question is not whether such data should be made public – it is whether it should be collected at all.
The paper was only a consultation. The Local Government Employers say:
We believe that the precise content of the information will need to be based on local need and therefore should not be dictated nationally. It is crucial that ensuring transparency to communities should not be burdensome and lead to unnecessary bureaucracy but rather to have a clear focus on the outcomes which improve people’s lives.
Stonewall's Chief Executive is Ben Summerskill. I used to sit next him when we both worked at the Evening Standard Londoner's Diary. We got on perfectly well and he has a good sense of humour. But he is not a friend of the Conservative Party nor does he share the Conservative philosophy that people should be judged as individuals rather than by arbitrary criteria irrelevant to their work. Ben was a Labour councillor in Westminster and comes from a grand Socialist dynasty – son of Shirley, grandson of Edith… I have no ill will towards Ben in his career development. But I do not think paying his salary is an appropriate priority for the Council Taxpayers of K&C or anywhere else.
Yet a look down the list of "Diversity Champions" (at £2,000 a pop) includes the following Conservative (or "Conservative led") Councils:
Birmingham, Blackpool, Bournemouth, Brighton & Hove, Bury, Cambridgshire, Chelmsford, Derby, Devon County Council, Dorset County Council, East Sussex County Council, Gloucestershire County Council, Hertfordshire County Council, Kent County Council, Lancashire County Council, Leicestershire County Council, Medway, Northampton, Nottinghamshire County Council, Poole, Shropshire, South Cambridgeshire, Southend-on-Sea, Staffordshire, Staffordshire Moorlands, Suffolk, Swindon, Telford & Wrekin, Thurrock, Warwickshire, West Sussex, Worcestershire.
I hope these councils will have a look at who they are paying subs to before cutting front line services.