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Local government 'stuck in the past' on female representation

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Analysis of council election results for 2018 has revealed only marginal increases in the number of women elected as councillors.

The Fawcett Society reported that the proportion of women in local government increased by less than 1% following the most recent elections in May, with 34% of positions going to female candidates.

Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, 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”.

Analysis of the May 2018 election results showed that, of the 151 councils that held elections, 46 councils (30%) returned fewer women than they had done previously, while 82 (54%) saw an increased proportion of female members elected.

In a breakdown of political parties, Labour saw the greatest increase in gender representation with 45% female members being elected compared with 40% in 2014. The Conservative party, however, saw its proportion of female councillors decrease from 31% to 29%, while Liberal Democrat representation increased from 34% to 36%.

The Fawcett Society called for every party to set out targets for increasing women’s representation with clear action plans for how to achieve them.

Following the May election, Alice Perry (Lab) attributed a rise in the proportion of Islington LBC’s female councillors to Labour’s all-women shortlists and local efforts to “identify, train and support talented people”.

Responding to the Fawcett Society’s report, Marianne Overton (Ind), vice-chair at the Local Government Association agreed that progress “must be made at a faster pace”.

“It is vital that local government better reflects the communities we represent and is inclusive in order to have the best skills and make the best possible decisions,” she said.

In this area Cllr Overton pointed to the LGA’s ‘Be A Councillor’ campaign, which aims to encourage women and under-represented groups to stand for election.

Cllr Overton said: “Local government must be at the forefront of driving change, but it will be important to get the balance right between changing culture and imposing structures.

“Change will also require all political parties and Independents to fully engage and support a wide range of aspiring councillors.”

The Fawcett Society said it recommended that more councils introduce maternity policies for councillors, as only 4% of councils in England currently have a policy in place.

Other recommendations include the opportunity for councillors to use technology to attend meetings remotely and the potential to introduce support for childcare and adult care.

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