Greens and Labour councillors are at odds over the cost of Brighton and Hove City Council keeping the campaign group Stonewall happy.
The opposition Greens said that they were disappointed with “the Labour council’s decision not to join the Stonewall Equality Index this year”.
The council has been included in the index since it started in 2005. On a number of occasions the council has been listed as the leading local authority in its commitment to LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans) equality.
Labour said that it was committed to equality – not just for members of the LGBT community – and was signed up to a wider scheme. It did not wish to duplicate costs.
The Greens said: “Last year the Green-led council appeared at number 12 of all employers after previously rising to number 3 in 2009.
“The award is a benchmark of good progress which has helped the council to measure its performance on LGBT equality.
“It’s free to enter with the only resources required being staff time to complete the application and ensure standards are being met.
“According to Stonewall, the scheme is ‘designed to challenge’ and provides ‘a strategic framework for employers’ to support them to create an inclusive workplace.
“Research has shown that employees from organisations ranked in Stonewall’s Top 100 exhibited higher levels of staff satisfaction and loyalty.”
The Greens also said: “The Labour council have argued that the Stonewall process would have required ‘considerable resources’ and have said, rather than entering the scheme, they have chosen to assess themselves, using the Local Government Association (LGA) Equality Framework for Local Government.”
The convener of the Green group, Councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty, said: “The Stonewall index has been a vital tool in driving up the council’s standards on LGBT equality, challenging us to continually improve.
“Whenever performance has dropped, the index has alerted us to the fact and allowed us to refocus our efforts.
“I’m really concerned that by failing to participate in the scheme for the first time since it began in 2005, our performance could drop dramatically.
“Without a rigorous process to follow, there is a danger that we could become complacent and fail to deliver on LGBT equality.
“Under the Green administration the council made huge strides forward on equality for the trans community.
“In multiple years we were voted the top council in the country on the Stonewall Equality Index.
“Twice – in 2012 and in 2014 – the city council won the Stonewall Education Equality Award as the leading council combating homophobia in the classroom.
“Our ongoing commitment to LGBT equality was the right thing to do and makes financial sense as a more inclusive city council means a happier, more diverse and more productive workforce which reflects the people we serve.
“Labour’s removal from the index is a real setback to that hard work.
“In 2014 Labour leader Warren Morgan told us that ‘a Labour council will work to restore our position and reputation as an LGBT employer from day one’.
“Now it seems that while talk is cheap, real action is lacking. How can we restore our position if we don’t even enter?
“Self-regulation and monitoring using light-touch schemes simply won’t cut it. We need to be challenged to adhere to the highest standards and show we are truly committed to LGBT equality.”
A leading Labour councillor, Emma Daniels, who chairs the council’s Neighbourhoods, Communities and Equalities Committee, said: “We are still doing all the very positive things that led to Stonewall naming us the top council in their employer index last year and we remain supportive of the excellent work they do.
“However, our equalities remit extends well beyond the LGBT workforce issues they focus on.
“We are equally focused on black and minority ethnic, disability and gender issues and fair and accessible service delivery.
“The national Equality Framework for Local Government assesses all of these areas. It also gives us the chance to learn from best practice elsewhere.
“We will be assessed under the EFLG later this year. Gathering the evidence and completing the paperwork for this exercise takes up a considerable amount of staff time.
“Rather than duplicating a lot of this with a separate evaluation by Stonewall, we consider focusing exclusively on the EFLG to be the best use of limited resources and the best way of demonstrating our progress and achievements in all aspects of equalities.
“We have also now joined the LGBT International Rainbow Cities Network which helps cities improve the quality of life of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans residents of all ages.
“This gives us the chance to learn from best practice in other cities around the world and also share our own expertise.
“This expertise includes trans ‘toolkits’ that have been developed by staff over the last two years to improve our work as an employer for trans people and make the most of our diverse and talented workforce.
“Our aspiration is that no child’s education or childhood is harmed because of their gender identity.
“An EU study of 92,000 LGBT citizens found that across Europe two third of respondents hid the fact that they are LGBT while at school. I find this statistic really upsetting.
“The gender identity of our children and young people should not prevent them from feeling safe at school and making friends.
“Our schools have full access to a toolkit developed in partnership with local LGBT youth charity AllSorts.
“We actively encourage all our schools to make use of this resource and we feel confident they share this aim.
“Our work in this area has cross-party support and it’s important we lead by example. We are grateful to the representatives of the trans community who have been voluntarily helping us to improve and refine the toolkits.
“I am proud that in this country Parliament is taking this issue seriously and that as city leaders we are as well.”
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