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Councils should not be sex snoopers

Most of us will have been asked, from time to time, some intrusive question by our local council about our sexuality, ethnicity, religon or other matter quite irrelevant to the service the council is providing.

Often councils that don't go along with such madness are punished. To take a couple of examples from my own borough. H&F Homes, which was our Council housing "almo" was reprimanded in its Audit Commission inspection report in the following terms:

 "H&F Homes has insufficient information about the profile of residents for ethnicity 23 per cent is unknown and for the other three diversity strands of disability, sexuality and faith the unknown figure is over 64 per cent. The forms for the collection of profile information from leaseholders are
inadequate. They only collect information on disability, age and ethnicity. They do not collect gender, sexuality or religion."

But what use would it be to find out, for instance, that 4% of our leaseholders are gay as opposed to 3% or 5%? What would we do differently knowing that figure? Yet the Audit Commission ratings could have financial implications. They were not a trivial matter.

Another landlord for many of the residents I represent is the Notting Hill Housing Association. Their Audit Commission report said:

"There are some weaknesses. Although tenant profile information is held on 77 per cent of residents overall, no information on sexuality has been collected… Board members have not received equality and diversity training."

Tyranny comes not silently like a thief in the night but openly and in broad daylight boldly declaring its intention.

Thankfully these intrusive housing inspections have now ended, as part of the abolition of the Audit Commission and the Tenant Services Authority quangos. No council or housing association is under any requirement to ask such questions.

But it is not just housing. Councils were required to ‘monitor’ equality data as part of their Local Area Agreements imposed by the last government. These have been scrapped.

In Islington, local residents who want to join the municipal library have been asked to fill out forms asking whether they have HIV or cancer, what is their sexual orientation, if they have had a sex change, are a Gypsy, or suffer from schizophrenia.

A recent survey of thirty local authorities found that a third routinely gathered diversity information from their local residents. Grandmother Richenda Legge in North Norfolk District Council was sent an equality monitoring form about her sexual orientation when she complained about her bin collections.

New statutory guidance issued by the Department for Communities and Local Government clarifies the law. It unambiguously states that there is no requirement for councils to undertake such lifestyle/diversity questionnaires of their local residents, nor of firms who are their suppliers. The one page statutory guidance replaces the 56 pages of John Prescott’s so-called ‘Best Value’ guidance. It reduces other
bureaucracy and red tape on local councils, increases support for the voluntary sector, and allows councils to focus on providing frontline services to their local residents.

Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles said:

"At a time when taxpayers are watching their pennies, the last thing councils should be doing is sending out unnecessary and intrusive questionnaires.

"Local residents shouldn’t be asked to reveal detailed personal information just because they've enquired about getting their bins emptied or how to join their local library.

"Clamping down on such town hall activity will save taxpayers’ money and protect the privacy of residents of all backgrounds."


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