Campaign to raise the profile of councillors to be developed to improve diversity

(Title Image: WEN Wales)

Yesterday, AMs debated the Community Committee’s report on diversity in local government – a summary of which you can read here.

Some communities “markedly under-represented”

Chair of the Communities Committee, John Griffiths AM (Lab, Newport East) said that despite efforts to improve the situation, women and some minority communities remain under-represented in councils. Based on current trends, there won’t be equal gender representation on Welsh councils until 2073.

He was pleased the Welsh Government accepted a number of recommendations on remote attendance at meetings and job-sharing, but one of the biggest barriers was abuse:

“Experiencing bullying, discrimination and harassment are unfortunately matters familiar to politicians at all levels. This was a common theme expressed to us as a barrier to attracting candidates, particularly those from under-represented groups. We made three recommendations in this area, including a call for stronger guidance for candidates and elected representatives on what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour on social media….”
– Chair of the Communities Committee, John Griffiths AM

Shadow Communities Minister, Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales) cited the Conservative’s Women2Win campaign to increase the number of Tory councillors and senior elected representatives as an example of a successful internal party solution. He didn’t think quotas were the best way forward (and neither did the Committee).

Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda) said the issue of under-representation couldn’t be tackled until forms of discrimination and prejudice were addressed, along with poverty – which is an additional barrier to seeking public office. Also, proportional electoral systems were proven to result in more women being elected than first-past-the-post.

A complicated issue

“I welcome the fact as well that it’s accepted as a priority that the Welsh Government should establish an access to elected office fund to assist disabled individuals to run for office. I have friends who would benefit directly from that but at the moment feel that there is a barrier to them running because of the additional barriers that are put on them because of the disabilities that they face.”
– Huw Irranca-Davies AM (Lab, Ogmore)

Jenny Rathbone AM (Lab, Cardiff Central) accepted it was a complicated issue, asking why was there a better balance of female to male councillors in Carmarthenshire compared to Ceredigion next door? Also, while many people have called for council meetings to be held later in the day to help those who are employed, it will have a counter impact on the over-60s who might have to travel after-dark in the winter to attend meetings.

Caroline Jones AM (BXP, South Wales West) blamed a general distrust of politics and an increase in prejudice. This was followed by an angry exchange between herself and Leanne Wood over Nigel Farage – the BXP leader’s – record when it comes to prejudice.

Raising the profile of councillors

Deputy Minister for Housing & Local Government, Hannah Blythyn (Lab, Delyn), said there were perceptions that a “politician” is always “pale and male”. What was important was providing the right information on what councillors actually do to challenge misconceptions and a campaign will be launched to do just that.

A number of the Committee’s recommendations are on the table for inclusion in a new Local Government Bill, including – as mentioned – remote attendance and job-sharing of executive roles, as well as extra assistance for disabled candidates.

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