Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities
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Councillor's Commission: call for evidence

Councillor's Commission: call for evidence

COMMUNITIES AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT News Release (080) issued by The Government News Network on 10 April 2007

WOULD YOU BE WILLING TO STAND FOR ELECTION?

Many people will be getting a knock on their door over the next few weeks as council candidates pound the streets canvassing for the local elections. And a new Commission is examining the incentives and barriers to a wider range of people standing as candidates and wants the public's help through a new call for evidence published today.

The Commission on Local Councillors will examine what motivates people to become councillors, the support councillors need to enable them to carry out the role effectively, and what can be done to attract more interested and able people into the role - especially those who are currently under-represented such as women, younger people and those from black and minority ethnic communities.

It will also look at the issues that might discourage people from becoming councillors such as difficulty in getting time off work, balancing the role with home responsibilities, remuneration, and restrictions on who can become a councillor.

The Commission is chaired by Dame Jane Roberts, former Leader of Camden Council who said:

"Councillors shape our daily lives which is why the Commission's work to examine ways of encouraging a wider range of people to be able to be elected as councillors, increasing representation in local government and increasing engagement and satisfaction with it is so important.

"We are not saying that current councillors aren't doing a good job. The 20,000 councillors in England play a valuable role, dedicating their evenings and weekends to council business, addressing constituents' concerns, and finding solutions to improve front line services. Our work will crucially look at the barriers that prevent every day people becoming councillors as well as the incentives and support they receive to see how we can get even more people involved.

"We want to hear evidence from present and former councillors, as well as a range of other people involved in civic life, such as school governors, tenant representatives, those involved with health bodies and with voluntary and community organisations, employers and even newspaper editors. And, of course, we must tap into those who are not currently civically involved to find out why."

Statistics show just 4 per cent of councillors are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds; the average age of a councillor is 58 with more than 50 per cent over 60 compared with just 0.3 per cent under 25 and under 8 per cent under 40; and 100 years since women won the right to stand for town hall elections, fewer than 3 in 10 councillors are women. 18 year-olds will be able to stand as candidates in the May local elections in England and Welsh Assembly elections for the first time. The new age for candidates was introduced in the Electoral Administration (2006) Act. There are 18-21 year old candidates standing for election in Manchester, Stratford upon Avon, Waveney, Poole, Barrow, Southampton, Oldham, Lancaster, West Oxfordshire, Runnymede, Flyde, Harlow and Bournemouth.

Just some of the issues and ideas the Commission will look at are:-

* Working with local business to promote more part-time and flexible working and encouraging employers to value people serving as councillors by providing time off for their duties and recognising their experience;

* Reviewing the time commitments needed to be a councillor and timetables of local meetings;

* Encouraging councils to look at better childcare support;

* Providing better information on how to become a councillor and what the job entails such as work shadowing schemes, information and awareness campaigns in BME communities;

* More support for councillors to develop the necessary skills for the role and ensure they are retained; and

* The extent to which perceptions of local government hinder well qualified people from standing.

The Commission will be hosting a monthly discussion forum as part of its evidence gathering, at http://forum.communities.gov.uk/councillorscommission. The discussion topic will change each month and to get the debate underway, April's question for discussion is 'What motivates people to be councillors?'

A recent survey of councillors found that the main reason reported was 'to serve the community' (86.9%), followed by 'to change things' (52.3%) and 'political beliefs' (51.5%). More than a quarter (29.4%) identified the reason 'because I was asked to'. Other research has also found that the extent to which people believe they can influence and participate in local decision making can significantly influence their satisfaction with their local council.

The Commission will make recommendations by November 2007 which will enable and encourage a more diverse range of people to take a role in local government. They will hold meetings and events around the country to get views from people who will also be able to contact to contact the Commission by letter, email, or through their website at http://www.communities.gov.uk/councillorscommission

Notes to Editors:

1. The members of the Commission who will be working with Dame Jane are:

* Yasser Ahmed, CRE Commissioner, Independent Race Advisor to the Greater Manchester Police Authority, and Non-Executive Director at the Bolton Hospitals NHS Trust;

* Cathy Bakewell, Leader of Somerset County Council;
* Jessica Crowe, Executive Director of the Centre for Public Scrutiny;
* Margaret Eaton, former Leader of Bradford City Council;
* Ben Page, Director, Ipsos Mori;
* Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive, Royal Society of Arts.

2. The Local Government White Paper and legislation currently before Parliament, sets out a package of measures that empowers local communities. The councillor's role is at the heart of these measures, including:

* strengthening the ability of councillors to act as champions for their community via a new 'Community Call for Action';

* a new duty for councils to involve communities in the delivery of local services and where appropriate devolve the delivery or management of services to them; and

* encouraging councils to provide councillors with small budgets to address local issues quickly.

3. Biographical details of Dr Jane Roberts, DBE

Jane Roberts has extensive experience in local government: a Camden councillor for 16 years, she was Leader of the Council from 2000-05 and is currently undertaking work for the Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA) and the Local Government Leadership Centre. She is also an Associate Fellow at Warwick University working with the Leadership Development Research Programme at Warwick Business School. Professionally, she is a medical doctor, specialising in child and adolescent psychiatry and Director of Quality and Performance at Islington Primary Care Trust.

4. Further biographical details for board members and the Commission's terms of reference are published today at http://www.communities.gov.uk/councillorscommission.

5. Further information on changes to the age that candidates can stand in local elections is availble here http://www.gnn.gov.uk/environment/fullDetail.asp?ReleaseID=276516&NewsAreaID=2&NavigatedFromDepartment=True

6. Issued on behalf of the Commision on Local Councillors by Communities and Local Government.

Public Enquiries: 020 7944 4400;
News Releases: http://www.communities.gov.uk

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