Birmingham council criticised for failing to ask staff and tenants if they are gay
Eric Pickles has done Birmingham City Council one favour. Never again will the authority be criticised for failing to ask staff and council house tenants whether they are gay.
Mr Pickles, the Local Government Secretary, confirmed at the Conservative conference that he planned to scrap rules which forced councils to carry out surveys into people's private lives.
Birmingham was a victim of these rules recently, when the Audit Commission criticised it for failing to ask staff in its housing department - and residents in council housing - what their sexuality was.
In a report on Birmingham City Council's Landlord Services published on August 4, the Audit Commission complained: "There are gaps in the Council's understanding of its customer [ie tenant] profile . . . it did not start to collect profile information relating to sexuality and faith until late 2009, and currently has only around 33 per cent data on these strands."
And it added: "Staff profile monitoring is also underdeveloped. Traditionally, the Council has only monitored staff against four of the six key strands and is only just starting to roll out self-declaration of sexuality and faith. It does not set any targets to determine how representative staff are of the community, either on a city-wide basis or locally."
The overall report was pretty damning and included a number of other criticisms, but Birmingham's failure to ask tenants and staff whether they were straight was one of the many factors contributing to the authority's low "one star" rating.
Clearly, there are some occasions when councils should ask people for personal information. For example, the Audit Commission complains that the authority only knows whether 48 per cent of tenants have a disability or not. I guess it needs to know whether tenants have a disability to ensure they are placed into suitable housing.
And it claims in the report that profiling tenants can help the council "to help those at greatest risk of antisocial behaviour or hate crime".
It also claims that failing to ask staff about their religion and sexuality "does not demonstrate a focus on ensuring staffing is representative of the whole community".
Should employers - because if it applies to a council I suppose it applies to any employer - ask staff if they are gay? Do we all want our bosses handing us forms to fill in with a box for our sexuality?
It strikes me as the type of thing that sounds like a much better idea in theory than when we are confronted with a form and told to fill it in.