Is your local council passing unlawful policies?
Guest post by Bad Policy Watch
Councils across the UK are using time and resources to sign up to ideological beliefs that deny the reality of sex.
In August 2022, people from the south-west of England formed the group Bad Policy Watch. We are holding Bristol City Council to account for what we perceive to be its unlawful and discriminatory actions. All we need now is a gender-critical policy lawyer!
On 5th July 2022 Bristol City Council passed the motion “Trans rights are human rights”. The motion declares that:
- men can be women if they say they are
- the council will not do business with companies and organisations that believe that sex is a material reality
- children in Bristol schools should be taught that everyone has a gender identity.
Councillors voted overwhelmingly to support the motion. They were not deterred by the lack of an equality impact assessment, nor by comprehensive challenges – such as a detailed list of legal concerns which was drafted by Women’s Voices Matter and signed by 34 local women. Over 26 pages, this analysis pointed out legal, logistical and financial flaws in the bill, questioning:
- the legality of the bill
- the use of public funds for unisex toilets and menstrual product bins in men’s toilets
- the emphasis on gender reassignment above other protected characteristics
- the risks of ideological bias when awarding council contracts
- the fact that other councils who promoted ‘Trans Inclusion Toolkits’ have had to withdraw them
- the conflict with the council’s public sector equality duty.
The former Head of Legal at Bristol City Council also considers the motion to be unlawful.
South Oxfordshire Council had taken a similar resolution on 22nd October 2020. Nearly a year later, on 7th October 2021, the Head of Legal and Democratic and Monitoring Officer felt obliged to make a statement to the full council, saying:
“I need to outline to Council for the record, the interpretation that we must place on certain elements of the resolution made. This is to ensure that there is no doubt about the considerations members and officers consider when making decisions around service provision.
The motion was political in nature, intended to be aspirational, was clearly something of relevance to the Council and was non-binding in nature or legal effect.”
Bristol City Council received no such advice and is now trying to turn its aspirations into two policies: an internal policy on ‘Supporting trans inclusion and gender identity at work’, and an external policy on ‘Trans inclusion and gender identity’. It held a six-week public consultation on the external policy between August and October 2022.
The potential impacts of these policies are wide-ranging:
- a chilling effect on free speech
- confusion for adults and children who are neurodiverse
- the loss of single-sex spaces (changing rooms, showers, rape-crisis centres)
- opening up girls’ and women’s sports to boys and men
- allowing men in all-women shortlists and awards
- diminishing the rights of faith communities
- the erasure of gay and lesbian people, who are same-sex attracted not same-gender attracted
- the loss of council contracts for companies and organisations who do not subscribe to gender-identity ideology – such as refuges for female victims of domestic violence.
Bad Policy Watch believes that Bristol City Council has not adhered to its Public Sector Equality Duty and is therefore in breach of the Equality Act (2010), because there was no equality-impact assessment to go with the motion and only one flawed assessment (with dead links) for the two proposed policies; and no evidence was given of consultation with representatives of Bristol’s diverse communities or with people who hold protected characteristics.
The motion, and the two proposed policies which flow from the motion, risk contravening articles of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR): specifically, Articles 9 and 10; freedom of thought, conscience and religion and freedom of expression (free speech).
Bristol City Council also appear to be ignoring the fact that gender-critical beliefs have been judged worthy of respect in a democratic society and are protected in UK law.
We know that similar motions and policies have been passed in other local authorities, including:
- South Oxfordshire County Council (22nd December 2020, item 128)
- Oxford City Council (29th November 2021, item 76a)
- Manchester City Council (2nd February, 2022, item 7)
- Norwich City Council (29th September 2022, item 9a)
- Cambridge City Council (22nd October 2020)
At least three councils have also passed policies relating to trans employees, which have similar problems: Leeds City Council (May 2018), Trafford Council, and East Ayrshire Council.
It is unacceptable that local-government bodies are incorporating policies that breach existing law and erode the rights of women and children.
Bad Policy Watch believes that the Equality and Human Rights Commission has a duty to remind councils of their legal obligations under the Equality Act.
Are you able to contribute evidence of illegal policy capture in your local council? Email [email protected]