Next year’s council elections offer an important chance to improve the diversity of candidates standing to represent their local communities
Now more than ever, councillors make a huge difference to the quality of life of local people and how local issues are dealt with.
Candidates elected next year will not only lead and help their communities recover and rebuild from the challenges brought about by COVID-19, they will also get to oversee budgets worth millions of pounds, decide how often bins are emptied, where new housing estates are built and what services to provide or cut.
However, the LGA’s 2018 councillor census found that councillors remain disproportionately white, male and aged over 60 compared to the populations they represent.
It is vital that the make-up of councils reflects their communities and their experience. It is also important that people feel there are candidates who can represent people like them, who understand their day-to-day lives and the issues facing their communities.
The LGA is working with councils to increase diversity and inclusion and encourage people from all walks of life and experience – predominantly those from black, Asian and ethnic minority (BAME) communities, LGBTQ+ groups and people with disabilities, but also more women and young people – to stand in their local elections.
Representative councils are best able to speak to, and for, their communities and to support the effective business of local government. Democracy, decision-making and good governance are also strengthened when councillors reflect the people they seek to serve and represent.
It’s also important for councils to have a broad range of skills and life experiences. Groups made up of people from different backgrounds and with different skills tend to make better, balanced decisions.
For example, skills gained through work, raising a family, caring for relatives, volunteering or being active in their community or faith groups, are all highly valuable to have as a councillor.
Everyone in local government has a role to play in supporting newcomers. However, it is also important for councils to be realistic about the commitment and challenges that councillors face.
As well as running the national Be a councillor campaign alongside local offerings, the LGA continues to work with its partners to extend its reach with particular groups to address the imagined and real barriers, which can prevent people stepping forward.
To support councils to run their own local ‘Be a Councillor’ campaigns and events, the LGA has also produced a range of guides, workbooks and other resources available to download from www.beacouncillor.org.uk
The BAME weekender
The LGA created the UK’s first development programme for councillors who are black, Asian, or from other minority ethnic (BAME) communities in 2004.
Supported by Lord Woolley, Director of Operation Black Vote, it is designed to help councillors from this group develop new skills and insights and prepare for leading roles in their communities and councils, and provides a unique learning and networking opportunity.
So far, more than 365 elected members have attended, with some going on to become committee chairs, mayors, cabinet members, deputy leaders, leaders and MPs.
Applications are open for the next BAME weekender event, which takes place from 27-28 February in Warwick. Find out more at www.local.gov.uk/our-support/highlighting-political-leadership/focus-leadership or email firstname.lastname@example.org.