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“Are you now or have you ever been a gender critical feminist?”

Must we all be aligned with the values of Stonewall?

Camden Council has been accused of “needlessly discriminatory behaviour” after demanding that companies in its supply chain “align” with its “values”, and prove their commitment to radical LGBTQ+ ideology.

According to information released by the Labour-run local authority, it has begun asking businesses “to demonstrate their commitment to LGBTQ+ equality before we procure them”.

Building this commitment into the procurement process is, the Council says, not just about being more “inclusive” and working “with businesses whose values align with our own” — it’s also an attempt to leverage its “position of power” to “positively influence” society.  

It would be nice to give Camden Council’s leaders props for shepherding what you sense they feel are a maddeningly wayward flock of transphobic taxpayers towards the broad sunlit uplands of “the right side of history”. But alas, as Harry Phibbs points out for ConHome, they themselves are but the mere servants of a Higher Authority — not central government, of course (this is Camden Council, after all), but Stonewall; and, in this instance, the trans charity’s Workplace Equality Index.

The Council first submitted — in both senses of that word — to the Index back in 2019, and is keen to point out that it did so “with the support of colleagues in our Rainbow Network”. More recently, it boasted about having reached #47 in Stonewall’s progressive league table, an achievement that meant it was: “Top out of all local authority entrants. This is something we are really proud of!”

As the former Conservative Councillor in Hammersmith and Fulham, Caroline ffiske, has documented on X, one of the (many) questions an organisation is expected to answer when bidding for a contract with Camden Council is: “When a potential supplier does not meet LGBTQ+ inclusion scrutiny, how does the organisation respond?” Helpfully, Stonewall has provided three possible answers for an organisation to choose from: “A. By not awarding the contract; B. By requiring improvements as a condition of contract. C. None of the above.” 

“It sounds like they’re angling for us to put C — let’s put C,” said no procurement executive at a facilities management company, ever.

So, does Camden’s new policy mean that a firm that tenders for a contract, and is able to offer a lower price and better quality than its competitors, would not be chosen if its values” didn’t align with those of the Council? And if so, would such a decision even be legal?

It’s certainly difficult to see how this policy can be squared with best value statutory guidance for local councils, which states: Authorities should avoid gold-plating the Equality Act 2010 and should not impose contractual requirements on private and voluntary sector contractors, over and above the obligations in that Act. Local authorities should seek to remove unnecessary paperwork and obstacles to contract compliance thereby making it easier for small and medium firms and the voluntary sector to apply and bid for contracts.”

The devil here of course will be in the detail. If the policy simply asks that contracting parties don’t unlawfully discriminate against LGBTQ+ people, then that’s not an unreasonable ask. If, on the other hand, it requires tenderers to comply with particular aspects of LGBTQ+ ideology, then that may be challengeable. Needless to say, the FSU is looking into this. If you know of a company that tendered for a contract at Camden Council, but lost out to an inferior competitor because it didn’t have a gold star from Stonewall, do please let us know here.

No doubt the Council’s legal team feels entirely confident that it’s on solid, defensible ground. The only question is whether that confidence stems from its own assessment of the policy’s legal risks, or Stonewall’s reassurances that there aren’t any.

On which note, it’s worth remembering that when the barrister Akua Reindorf was commissioned by the University of Essex back in 2021 to review the Stonewall-influenced harassment and bullying policies that led to the institution “no-platforming” two visiting gender-critical law professors, she pointedly remarked that one of those policy documents was “misleading” because it “states the law as Stonewall would prefer it to be, rather than the law as it is”. The title of that document? “The University’s Supporting Trans and Non-Binary Staff policy”.

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