How can we increase diversity in local government?

Throughout this week, the Public Policy Institute for Wales (PPIW) has run a series of blogs which focused on issues surrounding diversity in local government.  The PPIW was asked by Welsh Ministers to provide expert advice on increasing diversity among councillors in Wales.  Part of this work involved recognised expert in the field Dame Jane Roberts, who chaired the independent Commission on the Role of Local Councillors and was Leader of Camden Council from 2000 to 2005, discussing the issues with officials over the summer and addressing some of the barriers she identified and offering practical suggestions on increasing diversity.

We were delighted when Jane agreed to supplement this advice with a written blog, summarising her main points.  Jane highlighted the issue that ‘turkeys don’t vote for Christmas’ and it is naïve to expect the largely middle-aged, white, male councillors to push for major reforms.  She also questioned the political will for reform stating that political parties and MPs are wary of alienating existing councillors.  She continued in identifying a lack of political engagement and public awareness of the roles and responsibilities of those in political office and how many positions of power have become ‘mysterious’ to the public.  Jane called on reforming times of meetings, stressed the need for better use of available technology and suggested other practical solutions such as better support and mentoring.  Finally, Jane advocated that the Welsh Government should consider ‘piloting’ measures; created in agreement with local leaders, in one or two local authorities in Wales to test ‘what works’.

The second of our series saw Diverse Cymru tackle the issue of encouraging more Black, Minority, Ethnic (BME) people to stand in politics, given the fact that only 1% of councillors in Wales identify themselves as non-white.  With the support of then Deputy Minister for Tackling Poverty, Vaughan Gething AM, Diverse Cymru undertook fundamental research on how we can achieve better representation.  The findings recommend better mentoring and support; that more needed to be done to encourage active BME organisations to promote engagement in the political process and for people and organisations in power to continually question if they are diverse and proactively seek better diversity.

Finally, in the third and final article in our series, we asked Cllr Sara Jones to discuss the issues she faces being a young mother with a full time job as well as a Monmouthshire County Councillor.  Sara sympathised with disenfranchised voters given the startling figures of diversity, with only 27% of councillors in Wales being women and the average age being over 60.  The Report of the Expert Group on Local Government Diversity was to be welcomed and acted upon, and organisations were in place that proactively address the issues facing us, but more needed to be done said Sara.  She raised the option of legislation, beyond the Local Government Measure 2012, as a possibility for increasing diversity, but cautioned prospective local government reform if it meant councillors constituencies and responsibility increased significantly, therefore making it even harder for young, full time workers such as herself to participate.  In finalising, Sara called for firm leadership on the issue from all levels of government believing that the barriers to diversity can be broken down with the right commitment and intent.

We hope that by addressing these issues head on, we have initiated and contributed to a wider debate in Welsh civil society in how to increase diversity in local government, and politics as a whole.

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