Ruli Pennington is Editor of Council News Monitor and writes Night in the City an occasional column for Information Daily. She is passionate about better public services, devolution, malt whisky & women's football.@UnruliP
Findings by the IPPR think-tank present a dire picture of equal representation in Local Government.
A report released by the IPPR think-tank has revealed the gender disparity within UK local government.
The findings of the 'Power to the people?' report shows that only 33% of councillors, and only 15% of local authority leaders, in England are female. The figures presented in the report are even more damming in relation to the newly formed combined authorities. In these combined authorities, set up in regions that are governed by elected metro mayors, a mere 4% of constituent members are women, with all of the authorites being led by men.
It is clear, then, that despite the development of new forms of government, women are still left on the periphery. The IPPR report states that this is due to "progress in improving women's representation...stall[ing]" with the proportion of women councillors in England having only increased from 27.8% to 33% in the past 20 years.
Clare McNeil, IPPR associate director, said: "It cannot be right in 2017 that there are barely any women represented in the leadership of our newest democratic institutions, the combined authorities" the Belfast Telegraph reported.
“Efforts made to address this in Greater Manchester and elsewhere are to be welcomed, but radical change is needed if devolution is to be about bringing power to the people, rather than consolidating it among white middle-aged men."
In order to achieve the extra 3,000 female councillors needed to bridge the gender chasm in local government, Clare McNeil argues that 12,000 women need to come forward and stand for election.
The IPPR report suggests this can be achieved in several ways; Better data collection and comparison between areas to help stimulate competition; a greater use of quotas; institutionalized support for gender representation in local politics; and cross-party networks and comprehensive empowerment programmes.
Vice-chair of the Local Government Association, Marianne Overton, argued that current programmes, such as LGA's 'Be A Councillor' campaign, have a large focus on encouraging engagement from women and under-represented groups: "This report rightly highlights that progress in achieving gender balance in local government should be made at a faster pace. All parts of local government must be reflective of the communities they represent and be at the forefront of driving the level of change required" as reported in the Belfast Telegraph.
“However, as the report...highlights, change will only come about through a mix of support programmes and direct action from political parties to encourage and sustain aspiring female councillors.”