Twenty-first century councils

The equal participation of women and men in local politics, as our elected councillors and leaders, is an important condition for effective democracy and good governance. Representative councils are best able to speak to and for their communities, and to support the effective business of local government.

“Local government is too important to miss out on skills and talent for no good reason

Democracy and decision-making are strengthened when councillors reflect the people they seek to serve and represent.

Once councillors are elected, they need to be able to fulfil their duty to their communities, and should be supported to flourish and succeed, regardless of gender or circumstances. Things can also change while in office, and serving councillors can find themselves having to care for an older relative or may want to start a family. This obviously shouldn’t mean they can no longer fulfil their role as a councillor, but it may mean they need flexibility, understanding and support.

Nationally, women are:

  • 33 per cent of councillors in England, up 5 per cent in the past 20 years
  • 26 per cent of councillors in Wales
  • 20 per cent of council leaders
  • 30 per cent of cabinet members
  • 12 per cent of combined authority representatives
  • 0 per cent of metro mayors
  • 32 per cent of serving MPs
  • 34 per cent of political party members
  • 33 per cent of council chief executives
  • 76 per cent of employees in the local government workforce.

At the moment, around a third of councillors are women and about one in five leadership roles is occupied by women.

Local government is too important to miss out on skills and talent for no good reason, so the LGA and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government have published a resource aimed at helping local authorities to support women, parents and carers to stand for
election, serve as local councillors and take on leadership positions.

It is designed to help councils create the underlying policies, procedures, ethos and environment that will support this aim, and encourages councils to consider their existing practices, celebrate what is working, share good practice and take action.

The resource also highlights the usefulness of considering other characteristics, including disabilities, BME groups and LGBT+, and how these interact with the participation of councillors who are women, parents and carers.

It is disturbing that some women councillors and councillors’ families are being targeted for intimidation, particularly online, and this has led to many being unwilling to stand for election or re-election. Councils can create a supportive environment for women, parents and carers, and anyone affected by prejudice and abuse, to help them stand and serve with confidence.

What we’d like to see, as a result of this resource, is that more women, parents and carers are empowered and supported to take office and take on leadership roles within their councils. We want to hear that elected councillors are supported, so that they fulfil their potential, contribute fully, represent their communities – and are still able to lead their lives outside of the council chamber.

You can download ‘Twenty-first century councils: enabling and supporting women, parents and carers to stand and serve in local government’ at www.local.gov.uk/twenty-first-century-councils

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