At least eight councils have voted to adopt a formal parental leave policy following a drive to increase support for councillors who have children while serving.
Councillors have no legal right to parental leave and research by the Fawcett Society in 2017 suggested just 12 councils had a formal maternity or paternity leave policy in place. Its report, Does local government work for women?, found while some had informal arrangements, three quarters did not have any procedures in place with examples of cabinet members being told they would lose their position if they had a baby.
In response the Local Government Association Labour group has drawn up a policy which it is encouraging councils of all political colours to adopt.
So far the group is aware of seven Labour-run authorities and one Conservative one – Gloucester City Council – that have adopted the policy since its launch last November (see box). It allows female councillors to step back from their duties for six months after having a baby and still receive allowances and return to a position of equivalent standing on the council, for example as a committee chair or a cabinet member.
This is applied unless the individual loses the post at the local party’s annual general meeting or their party loses control of the council while they are on leave.
Fathers are entitled to two weeks paternity leave and in addition the policy says a council should endeavour to replicate any shared parental leave arrangements an individual has made with their employer.
The period of leave can be extended up to a year “by agreement”. However, under the terms of the Local Government Act 1972 councillors must attend one meeting in a six month period. As there has been no change to this legislation, this still applies.
Alice Perry (Lab), a backbench councillor in Islington LBC who has recently taken maternity leave from the council and her full-time job, told LGC there was a feeling that “it probably makes sense” to attend one meeting within six months in the way an employee might do a “keeping in touch day”.
“Before I had my baby I thought I would just express some milk and go to meetings, but it didn’t quite work out like that. I’m really pleased this policy is in place,” she said.
Cllr Perry, who also sits on Labour’s National Executive Committee, added: “It has been really well received and I know more councils are looking at adopting it.”
Southampton City Council approved the adoption of the policy unanimously at November’s full council meeting. Leader Christopher Hammond (Lab) told LGC councillors’ growing workloads meant authorities had a “duty of care” towards them.
“If we think as a society it’s unacceptable for someone to lose their job if they have a child, which I think most people do, then why don’t we have it as a councillor? We thought it was outrageous we didn’t have that as a council.
“I don’t think informal arrangements are good enough, there needs to be some basic level of protection.”
“The role of a councillor has changed significantly in recent years… the days of people turning up to a meeting for four hours every two months are really gone.”
Councils that have adopted the policy so far
Gloucester City Council
Lincoln City Council
Newcastle City Council
Southampton City Council
Sunderland City Council