IN public buildings across the land, from council offices to universities, you’ll typically see legions of framed ‘awards’ hanging on the walls, in the reception areas, in the waiting rooms and in the offices. They are put up for the public and employees to see how virtuous is this or that public-sector organisation, corporation or charity, that the said body is a really terrifically inclusive place to work, or that the CEO, MD or council leader has been commended for their commitment to climate change or diversity.
One group which will, for a small ransom, give you such a commendation is Stonewall, the LGBT+ lobby group.
Under its ‘Diversity Champions’ scheme, organisations pay a subscription to Stonewall in return for guidance on issues such as gender-neutral spaces, pronouns and transgender inclusion. One example of their ‘guidance‘ is to replace the word ‘mother’ by ‘parent who has given birth’. Whatever one’s views on such issues, it’s notable that one of Stonewall’s co-founders recently said that Diversity Champions membership required a ‘strict adoption of a narrow political ideology’; there is no room for disagreement.
A major cause of concern, too, is that many of the organisations signed up to their scheme are public bodies funded by taxpayers’ money. Can it be right that taxpayers are funding such a narrow and dogmatic ideology in this way? This is what we’ve addressed in our recent research on the so-called ‘Stonewall subsidy’.
When Liz Truss was Foreign Secretary in 2021, she rightly pushed for all government departments to leave the scheme. Yet extraordinarily, during her tenure, in October 2021 the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) renewed its membership. It is surely testament to the woke capture of even our largest state institutions that the Foreign Secretary can push for the department to end its commitment to such a scheme, be ignored, go on to become Prime Minister, and be outlived by that scheme.
It should concern all that Ms Truss was unable to terminate her department’s involvement with such a highly ideological programme. The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs also remained a member. Outside government, we found that 71 universities and higher education bodies and five police forces still signed up to it.
Our research showed that when you roll the Diversity Champions scheme together with cash Stonewall receives for conferences and grant income, the lobby group benefited from at least £1,221,222 of taxpayers’ cash in 2021-22.
Among the largest grant-givers to Stonewall were the Welsh and Scottish governments, which handed over £168,870 and £99,917 respectively. Stonewall has gone on the attack against the UK government for blocking the Scottish parliament’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill, describing it as a ‘calamitous move’.
At a time when taxpayers are facing a squeeze, it is baffling that public bodies continue to bankroll Stonewall, an activist group which regularly intervenes in political discourse. Surely such controversial campaign groups shouldn’t be supported in this way. For the record, and for that reason, we don’t take a penny from the government. Neither for that matter does Greenpeace. Stonewall can bang any drum they like, and criticise the government, but they shouldn’t be doing it on the taxpayer’s dime.
The symbiotic relationship with groups such as Stonewall pervades throughout government. In 2021-22, the FCDO spent £3,100 sending two staff network members to a Stonewall leadership programme to develop best practice on LGBT+ inclusion. It goes without saying that all people, no matter what their sexual preferences or identity, should be treated with respect at work. But why should a highly selective version of what that means be drummed into civil servants by outside lobby groups, preaching their own version of the gospel at huge cost to the taxpayer? Especially when their version of the gospel is far from a settled question. Surely all that an inclusive working environment requires is common sense and decency. And even though the supply seems to be decreasing in recent years, both cost nothing to the taxpayer.
Far too often, any idea of cutting spending is seen by politicians in Westminster as politically toxic. The reality is that, with the taxman collecting record amounts yet services clearly not delivering, people want to see sensible savings. Many in households across the country must scratch their heads when told by the government that services are stretched, but that when Stonewall officials stride in, the chequebook is open and the gold-plated fountain pen is at the ready. These are exactly the kind of savings that should be made, not just by central government but by local councils too.
As local authorities start to decide council tax rates for the next financial year, there are at least 30 local authorities, from Barking to Belfast, which paid money to Stonewall in 2021-22. You can take a look at the full dataset from the Taxpayers’ Alliance research here to see if your council is among them. Council leaders should cut all funding to Stonewall before considering any council tax rises. It’s only common sense.
While the direction of travel is encouraging, and many public bodies are doing the right thing and closing the purse on Stonewall, there are still far too many officials handing over cash to this lobbying group. It’s time for government departments to set the standard for all public bodies and cut Stonewall loose.
You can read the full Taxpayers’ Alliance report Stonewall subsidy 2023 here.