In recent weeks I have been undertaking extensive investigations into the funding for Stonewall from local authorities. This has been done via Freedom of Information requests and via contact with council leaders and other councillors. Last week I reported that Surrey County Council had decided to continue with funding. I suggested that the decision was a serious mistake for various reasons. One is “value for money” – sending Council Taxpayers money to political lobbying groups is unjustified, regardless of the particular causes they espouse. Also freedom of conscience. Council staff should not be sent on “training” sessions to be told what to think. Provided they carry out their work to a high professional standard, their personal views on political and social issues are their own affair. Finally, Stonewall has become a highly controversial outfit. From its beginnings in championing equal rights for gay people, it has adopted an extremist agenda that is hostile to free speech, damages the mental health of children, and undermines women’s rights. Stonewall declares that ‘trans women are women’ despite the phrase’s potential to ride roughshod over elementary science, established language, and women’s rights to single sex spaces and services.
The good news is that Surrey County Council is very much the exception. The great majority of councils have not given money to Stonewall in recent years. Of those that have, many indicated that they would not be doing so again. Conservative councils withdrawing backing include Conwy, Derbyshire, Hampshire, Nottinghamshire, Northumberland, and Wiltshire.
Some Labour councils (or Labour-led councils) have also ceased their funding. These include Blackpool, Cheshire East, Hounslow, Islington, Merton, Redbridge, Southend and Warrington.
The following councils are currently still funding Stonewall and have not given any clear indication they will stop doing so:
Typically the sum involved is £3,000 a year for membership of the Stonewall Diversity Champions programme. Some have paid for extra, for example, additional training sessions on top of this.
Though I have included Slough Borough Council, there must be some doubt about that particular revenue stream. The Council has issued a Section 114 notice which restricts its spending to essential services.
Among those Conservative councils on the list, some have indicated that the issue is under review. The message from Gloucestershire is:
“We are taking the opportunity to raise questions with them”.
Westminister Council states:
“We are reviewing all of our memberships to ensure value for money”.
Cllr Rob Waltham, the leader of North Lincolnshire Council, tells me:
“We have over the past few years sought to improve the councils standing and position on LGBT+ issues. It was well established back then that Stonewall were the leading body for accreditation on such matters. Clearly recent events and our progressive approach as an organisation has provided us an opportunity to review and think if this relationship is best suited to deliver our aims. I have triggered that review and will happily report back once it is completed.”
Dorset Council has also put the matter “under review”. But what was especially weak in this case was that elected councillors responded that it was not a matter for them and was for their officials to decide.
I have also made enquiries about police constabularies. Most have not provided recent funding. Greater Manchester Police has, but has stopped doing so. Police forces still providing funding are:
Again the spending is usually £3,000 a year each.
Jonathan Evison, the Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner for Humberside, arranged for his assistant to write to me to say that it was an “operational” matter for the Chief Constable. This seems to me to stretch the definition of operational policing to an absurd degree. The PCC is supposed to be responsible for setting the policies, priorities, and the budget. If they are abdicating responsibility on a decision about handing over money from the police budget to Stonewall, it is hard to see what the point is of electing a PCC is.
When it comes to the NHS Trusts there is not even the potential of democratic accountability – though some local councillors may sit on the board of governors as appointees. Some of these Trusts give funds to Stonewall, most do not. It really seems to depend on the ideological whims of the senior officials. Those that have withdrawn funding include the East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust, the Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust, the Norfolk Community Health and Care NHS Trust, the Bristol, North Somerset & South Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group and the Brighton and Hove Clinical Commissioning Group. The following are presently due to continue making payments – though the Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust did add it was “under review”:
While I am encouraged that the overall trend is for payments to be ended or reviewed, it does seem extraordinary that any payment of public funds to Stonewall should remain legal. Public sector bodies should not make payments from taxpayer funds to lobbying organisations, who in turn use that funding to lobby public sector bodies. The rules on this should be tightened.