Localism Bill, Religious Exemption and Discrimination

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2011 National LGBT Conference
8 August 2011

Conference notes that:

1.The Localism Bill is aimed at ‘a radical shift of power from Westminster to local people, increasing citizen participation, promoting community ownership, lifting inspection burdens on councils and removing regional government’.

2.The ‘Community Right to Challenge’ is presented as a measure to encourage the involvement of charities, social enterprises or employee mutuals in the delivery of local services. However if a local authority accepts an initial ‘expression of interest’ in running a service, the Bill contains measures to force services out to an open market procurement exercise in a similar way to the discredited compulsory competitive tendering process, leading to more privatisation and providers bidding for services at the lowest cost.

3.This Tory-led government is stepping back from equalities requirements in public service procurement, so the needs of women, Black, disabled, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT), younger and older service users are less likely to be met.

4.With more private bodies and community groups taking on public service provision, there is a risk that services may not be subject to the fundamental protections contained in the Human Rights Act (HRA) and the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) under the Equality Act 2010.

5.Many other provisions of the Bill – including local referendums, Community Right to Buy and planning provisions – also contain insufficient safeguards to ensure fair consideration of the needs of all groups within a locality and the human rights implications of decision making.

Conference welcomes the Local Government Conference 2011 resolution which called on the Service Group Executive (SGE) to lobby government to oppose the Right to Challenge procurement route and for inclusion of measures in the Bill to ensure:

A.That where services are provided and decisions are made by private entities and third sector organisations there is no reduction in the scope of protection afforded by the HRA and the PSED.

B.The effective engagement of underrepresented groups in decision making and that local decision making must involve, reflect and balance the needs of all communities within a locality.

Conference further notes that some of the third sector organisations planning to bid to take over public services are run by faith organisations whose ethos is hostile to LGBT people and that the Equality Act retained the ‘religious exemptions’ where employment is for a religious purpose.

Conference welcomes the work of the Cutting Edge Consortium, which seeks the elimination of faith-based homophobia, transphobia and institutionalised prejudice towards LGBT people and rejects the activities of certain faith leaders seeking exemptions from equality legislation.

Conference asks the National LGBT Committee to:

I.Publicise and support the third Faith & Belief, Homophobia, Transphobia and Human Rights Conference, ‘LGBT Lives – Achieving Equality’, scheduled for April 2012;

II.Continue to work with the Local Government Service Group Executive, Labour Link, other parts of UNISON and other appropriate bodies to campaign on these issues and to defend public services that meet the needs of all, delivered by a workforce that reflects its community.