Select Committee asks why are Councils still male, pale and stale?


Many of the UK’s council chambers are a diversity free zone. The average age of a councillor is 59 and less than a third of councillors are female. In England, only 3.4% of councillors are from Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) backgrounds despite comprising 12% of the population, a figure that has stayed largely static since 1997. Only 1% of councillors in the UK are BME Women despite comprising more than 5% of the population.

With this in mind, the House of Commons Communities and Local Government Select Committee are seeking to explore how to make local government more representative of the population along with increasing overall political activity at a local level. Such decisions are of concern to politicians at Westminster given the unrepresentative nature of many of the country’s biggest councils and declining participation in local politics. The committee are taking submissions from the public to see what motivates people to decide whether or not to run for their local council. The committee are keen to hear from a range of individuals, such as those who are active within their local community such as trustees or volunteers, but do not consider a role as a local Councillor as a possibility for them. They would also like to hear from those interested in local politics who have struggled to become candidates, newly elected Councillors and also from former councillors who did not seek re-election. The aim is to assess the best ways for local government to be strengthened.

Clive Betts, the Labour Chair of the Committee remarked,

"Local people choosing to serve their communities through election to their county, district, unitary, metropolitan or London borough councils is key to effective local democracy. We need to work out what changes can be made that will strengthen participation and representation from all parts of society. We hope many people from all sections of society will now put pen to paper and send us an email, to tell us why they choose to stand – or not - in local elections."

It is clear that something needs to be done about making Britain’s councils more representative. This is particularly harmful in diverse cities such as Birmingham, where there have been recent protests at the fact that in a city that is more than 30% non-white, all but two cabinet members are white men. Many people interviewed on the subject argue that political parties are best placed to correct any discrepancies in representation and perhaps that will be what the cross-party Select Committee find once the closing date for submissions passes on 16th July.

Heidi Alexander MP, a member of the Committee and a mentor on OBV’s Parliamentary Shadowing Scheme said,

"Understanding why people stand to be a Councillor and what puts other people off, is really important. At the moment, we have a situation where 96% of all local authority councillors are white, over two thirds are men and the average age of a councillor is nearly 60. Britain doesn't look like that so why should our town halls? If we want our democracy to be truly representative of local communities, our councils need to be better reflect the populations that we serve. I'd encourage anyone who has any views on this to respond to the select committee's call for evidence and to tell us what you think."

If you are interested in sharing your views about improving diversity within our Council Chambers, click here.

Robert Austin

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Cultural hegemony

As a recent local councillor myself, I believe I know of some reasons why councils are so male, pale and stale:

The religious practice of prayers before council is one such example. By holding the Christian faith, or indeed any faith (although it very nearly is always Christianity), above others means that those who wish to serve the community but who do not wish to sit through a whole load of prayers and asking God for divine help are put off from getting involved.

My own experience is that councillors laugh - when the word multiculturalism is brought up in any conversations. Ditto 'equal opportunities'. I kid you not.

At a diversity training session, councillors laughed and treated the whole session with contempt. The training was of such a poor standard, I was quite shocked, clearly no advice from external parties had been sought and it had clearly been created in-house by people with next to no understanding of the barriers facing BME communities.

In my own area, following the election of a Black MP, I clearly remember remarks from prominent local councillors "The electorate will never wear this" etc (said by someone standing right next to me).

Maybe the above sample of reasons in part explain why Black and Asian people do not stand for election?

Imran Khan