The eighth census of local authority councillors in England shows that elected members would recommend the role to others and are spending more time on council and ward business.
Almost three-quarters of you had some kind of contact with the LGA last year. But there is some way to go to ensure councillors are truly representative of the places they serve.
More than 2,600 councillors in England responded to the latest LGA census, carried out between September and November last year – a response rate of 15 per cent.
The census provides the most comprehensive, timely overview of local government representation and how that has changed over time since 1997. The results will help to inform the development of strategies and policies for local government by central government, local government and political parties.
The survey questions focused on three broad areas – councillors’ work, views on a range of areas, and personal characteristics.
Be a councillor
Increasing the pool of talent from which councillors are elected is a key task for local government.
The LGA’s ‘Be a Councillor’ campaign is based on the belief that local authorities – and political parties and groups – can do the best for their communities when they truly represent their place.
Local government can only be as effective, relevant and vibrant as the people elected to run it. This means encouraging more diversity and harnessing the skills, experiences and knowledge of under-represented groups.
We need different kinds of people willing to put themselves up for election, so that political parties and the electorate get a choice of talented candidates from which to select – people who are ordinary enough to be representative, but extraordinary enough to be representatives.
See www.local.gov.uk/our-support/highlighting-political-leadership/be-councillor and www.beacouncillor.co.uk for more information.
One in 10 councillors has served their local community for more than 20 years, but the average length of service in 2018 was 9.2 years – not dissimilar to previous years.
Councillors were spending a little longer on council business in 2018 – an average of 22 hours a week, compared with 20.8 hours in 2013. But just more than 14 per cent are putting in a full working week at the town hall, averaging more than 35 hours.
Council meetings took up most time (8.1 hours), followed by engaging with constituents (6.2 hours), and working with community groups (4.1 hours). An extra 4.3 hours a week was spent on group/party business in 2018.
In 2018, just more than half (53.5 per cent) of councillors held at least one position of responsibility on their local authority, most commonly membership of the cabinet or executive (19.6 per cent). Around two in five (38.9 per cent) were members of at least one other public body, such as other local authorities (17.9 per cent), parish councils (14.1 per cent) or town councils (12.8 per cent).
More than four in five (84.6 per cent) became councillors to serve the community. More than half did so in order to change things (54.4 per cent) or for their political beliefs or values (52.9 per cent). The reasons for becoming a councillor have changed little since 2004.
Three-fifths of councillors (60.4 per cent) thought that representing local residents was among their most important roles. Supporting local communities (51.3 per cent), listening to the views of local people (48.7 per cent) and addressing issues (39.1 per cent) were also commonly cited.
In 2018, 38.5 per cent of councillors thought that they had about as much influence to change things in their area as they expected before they were elected, while 37.7 per cent felt that they had more influence and 23.8 per cent that they had less. Most councillors (91.8 per cent) thought they were ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ effective in their role.
Most respondents thought their council had appropriate arrangements in place to deal with inappropriate behaviour towards them in their role as councillors. The proportion was highest in respect of such behaviour by officers (80.6 per cent).
The vast majority of councillors (84.7 per cent) would recommend the role to others, and two-thirds intended to stand for re-election.
Almost three-quarters of respondents had engaged with the LGA in some way in the past year: 41.6 per cent had visited our website; 26 per cent had responded to consultations; more than three in 10 had attended LGA training; 19.1 per cent had followed the LGA on social media; and 16.8 per cent had attended our events. Many of you had personal contact with the LGA – via our officers (15.9 per cent), elected board members (13.3 per cent), or because we visited your council (17.6 per cent).
Councillors’ personal characteristics
Almost two-thirds of councillors held voluntary or unpaid positions in 2018, in addition to being elected members.
A quarter were school governors, although this proportion has fallen from 37.2 per cent in 2013.
Almost half of councillors – 45.1 per cent – were retired, compared with 21.6 per cent of the general population of England. The proportion of councillors in full-time employment has fallen gradually from 24.7 per cent in 2004 to 16.2 per cent in 2018 (33.6 per cent for England).
More than two-thirds (67.5 per cent) had a degree or equivalent qualification last year compared with around 50 per cent in 2004-2008. In 2018, 40 per cent of the general population was similarly qualified.
Just over three in five councillors were male (63.3 per cent), and 35.7 per cent were female. There has been a gradual fall in the former and rise in the latter over 2004-2018.The proportion of councillors describing themselves as white was 95.8 per cent (compared with 86.5 per cent of the general population) – a figure that has changed little since 2004.
One in six councillors (16.1 per cent), has a long-term health problem or disability, which limits their daily activities or the work they do, compared with one in five of the general population.
In 2018, more than a third of councillors (36.1 per cent) had caring responsibilities, in around half of cases for children (16.7 per cent). The proportion with a caring responsibility had previously ranged between 24.2 and 27.9 per cent between 2004 and 2013.