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Long-term strategy needed to increase diversity in local government

Pembrokeshire County Council

TECHNOLOGY can be better used to increase diversity in local government, but the real challenge is changing people’s perception of elected members, according to the National Assembly’s Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee.

It found little progress had been made in encouraging more women to stand, or more people from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities, people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transsexual (LGBTQ) or people with disabilities.

The Committee believes better use of technology such as Skype could be one way of giving people more flexibility to contribute to council meetings alongside working or other responsibilities. It’s recommending three authorities trial the technology from rural, valley and urban areas.

Relaxing restrictions around attending council meetings and voting in person could reduce the pressures on councillors and help to attract more people to the role.

Longer term, a public awareness campaign should be undertaken to improve people’s understanding of the role of councillors and political education should be taught in schools so young people are properly equipped to vote when they are old enough to vote.

The Committee commended the approach taken at Swansea City Council where a cabinet position is shared between two members and believes consideration should be given to allowing non-executive members to do the same, meaning more than one candidate would be elected to share one seat in a ward.

Elected members should also be offered more support and training in managing a better work-life balance. The Committee was concerned to learn a care allowance designed to allow councillors to claim for childcare or other care costs was not widely taken up due to public perceptions around expenses and allowances and the fear of a backlash.

The Committee believes that action is needed to elect more women as councillors and, as this change is not happening naturally, recommended that the current provision that allows all-women shortlists be extended until 2050.

Chair of the Equality, Local Government and Community Committee, John Griffiths AM, said:
“Local government in Wales delivers a range of important services to our communities including education and social services. The more representative of the people they serve the better equipped our councillors are to carry out their duties and responsibilities.

“Unfortunately, women, black and minority ethnic communities, individuals with disabilities, LGBT people, the young and those with lower incomes are markedly under represented meaning their particular experience, views and concerns have too weak a voice.

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“Later this year we expect the Local Government Bill to be introduced to the Assembly, providing an opportunity to address these issues.

“This committee inquiry will help inform that legislation and aid our scrutiny. We have sought to understand the importance of diversity, barriers that hold it back and examples of how they may be overcome.”

The Committee makes 22 recommendations in its report, including:

That the Welsh Government, in its forthcoming local government Bill, includes provisions to relax the restrictions on members’ remote attendance and voting at formal council meetings set out in the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011 to enable local authorities to trial the use of video communication methods.

That the Welsh Government works with the Welsh Local Government Association to identify three local authority areas to participate in trialling the use of video communication methods to facilitate participation by remote attendance at council meetings.

The Welsh Government and the Welsh Local Government Association start work on a positive campaign to increase diversity among candidates standing for local government elections by summer 2019.The report will now be considered by the Welsh Government.