Councils should scrap the practice of carrying out lifestyle surveys of their residents which query people about their religious beliefs or sexual orientation in a bid to cut costs, Eric Pickles has said.
The communities secretary said there was no requirement for councils to undertake lifestyle or diversity questionnaires of their residents or their suppliers which ask personal questions about religious beliefs, sexual orientation and ethnicity.
Mr Pickles said he wanted to see an end to the practice as it was costly and unnecessary and often duplicated information already collected in the Census.
“Clamping down on such town hall activity will save taxpayers’ money and protect the privacy of residents of all backgrounds,” he said.
The move came as part of the publication of new guidance to local authorities issued by the Department for Communities & Local Government.
DCLG said the new one page Best Value Statutory Guidance replaced “56 pages of prescriptive statutory guidance on local priorities introduced by the previous government”.
The department said the new guidance set out how council should achieve Best Value in their areas “not just in terms of cost for local taxpayers, but also the wider social and environmental benefits above and beyond the services they provide”.
The guidance includes a duty on councils to consult with voluntary and community sector organisations and avoid “passing on disproportionate” cuts to their funding.
This guidance states that councils should not pass on larger reductions to their local voluntary and community sectors and small businesses than they take on themselves. In particular:
- those councils looking to reduce or end funding, or any other support to one of these organisations should give at least three months’ notice of the actual reduction to both the organisation involved and the users of the service they provide
- councils should involve and discuss their plans with the organisation and local service users as early as possible before making any final decisions on the future of the service; and
- councils should give organisations, local service users and the wider community the opportunity to offer options for reshaping and reducing the costs of the services provided.
Mr Pickles said: “Community and voluntary groups provide vital and valuable services to our communities, often aimed at some of the most vulnerable in our society. They deserve a fair deal.
“I’m not asking councils to do anything that I wouldn’t do myself, so all central government departments are now signed up to these fair new standards.”
Sir Stuart Etherington, National Council of Voluntary Organisations chief executive said: “When local authorities are looking to make cuts it is important that they engage with the voluntary and community sector in a considered manner and not just as a tick box exercise.
“Last year councils were asked to make decisions within a very short and urgent timeframe and this year they have an opportunity to do so in a much more measured and meaningful way.”