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A lack of diversity is doing more than just holding councils back

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LGC’s essential daily briefing.

According to Yuval Noah Harari, author of New York Times best-seller ‘Sapiens’, the liberal west is currently experiencing a “tremendous wave, a revolution”, with swift technological advances causing many people to feel “less powerful, less relevant”.

Mr Harari warns that societies are at risk of creating a “useless class” of workers who, following years of unacceptably poor education rates, will not be able to find work after all of the menial labour roles have been automated.

This is but one of the horrifying “future” realities that society is already starting to experience.

Realities like these require creative and original answers which, according to (at least) South Northamptonshire Council leader Ian McCord, will require a break from the old ways of running government. Yet according to the Fawcett Society, local government is still “stuck in the past” when it comes to the representation of women and therefore “not fit for the future”.

According to the new research, a mere 34% of all councillors in England are women - sinking to just 18% of all council leaders - only two more leaders than in 2016.

Sam Smethers, Fawcett Society chief executive, said: “This is really disappointing. We are literally crawling along. As we mark the centenary of women’s suffrage, women’s representation across local government is stuck in the past.

“It is time for a strategic response. We call on government, political parties, and local councils to act on the recommendations of the Local Government Commission, remove the barriers to women’s participation and make local government fit for the 21st century.”

Interestingly, this does not translate over to local government’s top officer positions. LGC research in July found that 41% of top-tier chiefs are female - a significant improvement on the private sector.

Yet a lack of gender balance among councillors is holding other areas of local government back as well. LGC revealed today that the government’s target to recruit women to 33% of all Local Enterprise Partnership board positions by 2020 is being hampered by this lack of female leadership on councils.

LGC found that 16 LEP boards reported no female council representatives while only five LEP boards had equal numbers of male and female members on their boards.

Jo Lappin, chief executive of Cumbria LEP, said: “LEP boards are not entirely masters of their own destinies on this, as public sector roles are filled by nomination processes, with partners nominating whoever currently occupies the role.

“We are therefore reliant on our public sector partners to help us deliver on gender equality targets and if their roles are filled predominantly by men, then we start from behind.”

And councils who struggle in this area would do well to look to their LEPs for examples of best practice. Many LEPs are already actively recruiting new female board members from among their business communities.

To tackle the problems of the future, councils will need a system that can respond to society’s demands. That system requires an active recruitment drive to draw in more diverse members from the communities they serve.

By Robert Cusack, reporter

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