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Collective action on council diversity

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If members of the public were to describe the typical councillor they would probably imagine a white male of retirement age who spent their days in meetings in the Town, City or County Hall.

I accept of course there are excellent retired male councillors. But we also know that if local government is to be really representative of the people in our communities and understanding of all their needs and interests then councillors themselves need to be more representative.

The House of Commons Communities and Local Government Select committee which I chair has just launched an Inquiry  into “Councillors and the Community”. We are working closely with the Local Government Association who have launched their own “be a councillor” campaign.

How do we attract more young people, more people with young children, more employed people, more women especially those from the black and Asian communities, and more people with disabilities?

What are the obstacles which stop a more diverse range of people from standing? Is it inadequate remuneration, problems getting time off work, lack of childcare, lack of sufficient admin backup, or the failure to offer those with disabilities proper support?

Perhaps it’s the feeling that local councils have too little power and are there simply to do what central government says. There are many younger councillors for example who stand for one term then don’t stand again. Are they frustrated at not being able to make the difference that they imagined when first elected?

Or perhaps it is the interminable meetings which seem to be loved by those who have been doing them for the last 20 years? Perhaps the increasing emphasis in many councils on working in the community and indeed in several councils of giving the ward councillor the right to determine expenditure on local budget will encourage more younger councillors to stand and persuade those already elected to stand again.

What we now require are views form a range of people, those who are councillors ,those who have stood down and those people interested in their communities but so far not persuaded to stand. Please let us have views by visiting our website, emailing us at subject “YBaCouncillor”, or tweeting. We want to encourage evidence form as many as possible to make our conclusions truly representative.

Clive Betts (Lab), chair, communities and local government select committee

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