Shining a light on Stonewall’s activities

Many of the 850-plus Stonewall Diversity Champions are public authorities, which means they have to respond to requests under the Freedom of Information Act . So let’s ask them about their dealings with Stonewall – it only takes a couple of minutes.

My previous post suggested that Stonewall had gained an unhealthy level of influence over large employers, especially public authorities.

Many of the 850-plus Stonewall Diversity Champions are public authorities. That means they have to respond to requests for information under the  Freedom of Information Act – which is how I was able to write in such boring detail (sorry) about Edinburgh University’s submission to the Workplace Equality Index.

One way of putting some pressure on public bodies to withdraw from these schemes is just to force them to reveal the detail of their dealings with Stonewall. So I’m proposing a simple campaign: let’s send all the public authorities on Stonewall’s list of “Champions” FOIA requests asking them for information. (Though I’m inclined to suggest leaving off the NHS at the moment, for obvious reasons.)

If you can spare a few minutes to participate, here’s what you do. 

1. Go to  https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/ and register as a user. (Keep that tab open.)

2. Go to Stonewall’s list of Diversity Champions, and choose a public authority.

3. Go back to https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/. Type the name of your public authority into the search box. You may get a couple of results (e.g. searching for “GCHQ” returns “Government Communications Headquarters” and also “Intelligence and Security Committee”), but click on the name that best describes the one you’re looking for.

4. Scroll down the results page a short way to check that there hasn’t been a recent #DontSubmitToStonewall request made to that body. For example, if you search for “Northumbria University” and then click on the name of the body, this is the first thing you see:

So they’ve had a request already – they don’t need another. Choose a different public authority, and try the same thing again. You won’t have to scroll very far to be sure – any of these requests will have been made in the last couple of days.

(Stonewall’s list is helpfully divided into categories, and mostly it will be fairly obvious which are public authorities and which not: every single organisation categorised as “local government” is a public authority; none of those on the “consumer goods and retail” list is; most on “financial services” aren’t, but of course the Financial Conduct Authority and the Financial Ombudsman Service are. If in doubt, search on https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/ – if you find them, they’re a public authority; if you don’t, choose another.)

5. Once you’ve found a public authority that hasn’t yet had one of these requests, click on “Make a request” by their name. 

6. The site gives you a blank request form starting “Dear [name of authority].” Underneath that, paste the following text:

This is a request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA). Please provide any information that you hold answering to any of the following descriptions:

1. Any application you made in 2019 or 2020 to be a “Stonewall Diversity Champion” or to be included on Stonewall’s “Workplace Equality Index,” including any attachments or appendices to those applications. Please redact personal details if necessary.

2. Any feedback you received in 2019 or 2020 from Stonewall in relation to either application or programme.

3. Any other communication you have received from Stonewall in 2019 or 2020 unless privileged or otherwise exempt from disclosure (but if you claim privilege or exemption in relation to any material, please say in broad terms what the material is and the basis on which you claim to be entitled to withhold it).

4. Full details of any equality impact assessment you carried out connected with any of these applications (including any equality impact assessment carried out prior to an earlier application of the same kind, if no further assessment was done).

5. Details of the total amount of money you paid to Stonewall (i) in 2019; (ii) in 2020, whether or not as payment for goods or services.

6. Whether you intend to continue your membership of any Stonewall scheme in the future, and if so which.

There’s also a box for a summary of your request above that, so paste in there: 

Information about your dealings with Stonewall #DontSubmitToStonewall

Please do include “#DontSubmitToStonewall” to make it easy to find a complete list of these requests in the future, and also to help guard against the same authority getting lots of duplicate requests.

7. Ignore the warning that your request is getting long (it’s fine – it’s focused and perfectly fair), and click on “Preview your public request.” Check everything is in order – including the all-important hashtag. Once it is, click on “Send and publish your request.” 

8. Wait and see what comes back, and update the status of your request on  https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/  as appropriate.

8. That’s it for now. I’ll post again in early March (when the responses to these requests should start coming in) with guidance about requesting an internal review, if your request is refused or not satisfactorily answered.

11 thoughts on “Shining a light on Stonewall’s activities”

  1. Note that when you register for What Do They Know you need to do it with some version of your real name. This will be published along with your request (but your email address won’t be).

    If you are concerned about anonymity or searchability register with the least identifiable version of your name e.g. initial plus surname (if you have a relatively common surname – this doesn’t work for me obviously!) or you can use your initial plus married or maiden name (whichever you don’t use in professional life).

    https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/help/privacy#public_request

  2. Since the initial email to make FOI applications I have made two but I do not know who to inform of the ones I have made. Can you help please?

    1. If you did them on whatdotheyknow.com, they will be public for all to see – no further action required. Thank you for taking part!

    1. Thank you very much. You should get an email via Whatdotheyknow.com, but don’t worry about forwarding: all the information provided by way of Whatdotheyknow.com is posted there, for all to see – so anyone can do whatever analysis of it they like.

  3. Hmmmm. My FOI request to University of Cambridge “has been reported as needing administrator attention (perhaps because it is vexatious, or a request for personal information)”.

    1. Hmmm as you say. Will be interesting to see how that develops. The request is focused and clear, not a request for personal information, and not in any way vexatious – so hopefully this is just a try-on and Whatdotheyknow.com will have none of it.

  4. I’ve had a reply back from Hackney, where I used to (but no longer) live (all my current council areas etc. were covered). They didn’t do an EIA for membership…
    They also say, which seems odd “Membership of the Stonewall Diversity Champions programme does not require an application or submission.”

    1. I think that may be right: my impression is that all you have to do to be a Diversity Champion is pay! But one of the benefits that gets you (using the term rather loosely) is coaching on your Workplace Equality Index submission – which is the lengthy and tedious document that M Hunter got out of Edinburgh University a while back.

  5. I’ve had a response from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

    “We can confirm that BEIS holds information within the scope of your request. However, we have determined that some of this information may be exempt from release under section 43 (commercial interests) of the Act. This is a qualified exemption and, as such, it is necessary to carry out a public interest test to consider whether, in all the circumstances of the case, the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information. By virtue of section 10(3) of the Act, where public authorities have to carry out a public interest test, they do not have to comply with the request until such time as is reasonable in the circumstances. Due to the need to consider where the balance of the public interest lies in relation to the information that you have requested, the Department will not be able to respond to your request immediately. However, we hope to let you have a substantive response to your request by 7th April 2021.”

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