£10K councillors spend to bring more diversity?

Interesting article in today’s Guardian about Ruth Kelly’s plans that councillors should get their own budget to make it easier for them to help local people sort out problems quickly. This amount could be £10,000.

This comes as part of a drive to try to make our councillors more representative of the people they represent, which they currently certainly are not. A councillor census shows that 96% of councillors are white, their average age is 58 and only 29% are women. It also shows that only 23% are in full time work with 40% retired. Only 0.3% are under 25.

Not only is it bad, but it could be getting worse. The gender balance has hardly altered since 2004 and the average age has actually risen! So something certainly needs to be done to redress this problem of having councillors who don’t look like those they represent. Could the reason not enough people are interested in politics be because politicians are seen as middle aged white men in grey suits?

I think the £10,000 idea could be a good idea in itself although I’m not sure it will attract more people into wanting to become councillors. From my previous experience as a councillor, when I had a very small budget of £2,000 this was useful, but a drop in the ocean to really get anything done. So £10,000 could be a step in the right direction, but when you think what you can actually get for that amount, in terms of really being able to help the community, it’s still a pretty small amount when you look at what a council actually spends.

A raft of measures is needed to give councillors real power. The diversity issue will only be solved when all political parties take action when choosing their own candidates. The Labour party is the only party which is currently bold enough to take this major step.

Ruth Kelly thinks that not enough people are coming forward, including younger people, women and ethnic minorities, because they don’t think that councillors have enough power and she intends to address this. I’m glad that she’s looking at this issue and I think it’s important that ward councillors have more power to really help in their communities.

I think that the major issue is work life balance, if being a councillor could fit in with work, being a parent and having a life then that would be real progress!

The diversity issue is certainly a problem in Leeds, looking at the executive board of Leeds City Council, which is currently run by Conservative/Liberal Democrat/Green parties which clubbed together to form an alliance, even though Labour is still the biggest party by far! The coalition took over in 2004 and not one woman from Tory, Lib Dem or Green parties has been allowed to serve on the executive board, which makes most of the decisions of the council, and each executive board member leads a department of the council. Can the women in these parties not be trusted to run such things as city services, social services or any of the other council services? I suspect they would do a better job than most running them at the moment! Or could it be that this would mean less jobs for the boys?

4 Replies to “£10K councillors spend to bring more diversity?

  1. “I think that the major issue is work life balance, if being a councillor could fit in with work, being a parent and having a life then that would be real progress!”
    Is it possible to juggle two of the above successfully? I’d love to think I could become a councillor, and keep my work and family life intact. Although what family life I have is debateable, working 60+ hours per week.
    For me, this isn’t a women’s issue, it’s a councillor issue. It’s hardly surprising that the average age of a Councillor is 58 – typically at that age, your career and (young) family call less on your time.
    Thinking about it, it raises a much wider question. How can a white 58 year old male (let’s say for the sake of argument, his name is Andrew Carter – well, he looks 58 anyway) possibly hope to understand what matters to his young, working constituents, with families to support?
    And is it such a leap to say that this adds to the feeling that politics and people seem to have little in common?

  2. I would be delighted to see more diversity in council chambers, but I think merit should count for more than gender or ethnicity. As Paul C says above, it is a councillor issue. As it is council meetings are generally in the evenings and most work in the wards is conducted at weekends.
    If meetings were moved to daytime then people with business and services experience that would benefit a council would be ruled out from standing. In fact you would only end up with people who do not work full time, probably increasing the number of older councillors.
    Some people I know in their 30s who would consider standing for election simply cannot afford to put themselves forward because with increasing costs and rising taxation they need to work longer hours to be able to keep their families. I am not sure throwing money at councillors is the answer though.

  3. Interesting what you say. In Leeds, according to this – http://www.leeds.gov.uk/moderngov/ieDocHome.asp?Page=all&Categories=&Year=2007&J=22 – most Council meetings are held during working hours. Perhaps it’s different in Wellingbrough, but in Leeds the business of the City Council is a mainly daytime affair.
    Consequently, as a working thirty-something with a family to support, it’s financially inconceivable that I could consider standing for Council, as I’d have to change jobs or reduce my working hours.
    For me, it therefore follows that Councillors (at least – those who are on the backbenches or in the opposition) are either dependent on their partners, financially independent, are able to work flexibly, or don’t (need to) work at all. I’d love to be wrong about this, but I don’t see how people not in those categories can afford to be elected.
    Karen, do you have a view on this? I’d be really interested in your opinion, given you’re the wife of a former Councillor, and hopefully one yourself next time, so you’ll have significantly better knowledge of this issue than I do.

  4. Yes, I do know in Leeds from my own experience that meetings like full council, scrutiny, planning etc are all held during the daytime. Although there have been attempts to change this, for example, a scrutiny board I sat on where the chair asked the scrutiny board members when they would prefer to meet, but when put to the vote, most wanted to keep it during the daytime. It suits those who don’t need to work ie mostly retired people. At the end of a working day would be the best time to hold the meetings in my opinion.

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