Today’s average age for a councillor has increased to 58.3 from 55.4 ten years ago, councillors are not representative of the electorate and many are retired. The Councillor’s Commission, which reported at the end of 2007, spelt out ways to change who is nominated for election. The Local Government Association and the Improvement and Development Agency have now voiced opposition to these recommendations, but given support to other proposals.
The Commission called for legislation on equalities targets in race, gender and disability equalities schemes, because only 4.1 per cent of local representatives come from ethnic minority backgrounds . It also proposed that the Equality and Human Rights Commission should work with the bottom 10 per cent of authorities who least reflect their communities supporting initiatives to improve diversity. The LGA has argued that councillor equality targets are the responsibility of political parties and a situation where councils are assessed against targets over which they have no role in controlling or delivering should be avoided.
The Commision also found that younger councillors are becoming a rarity with just 3.5 per cent under 30 and fewer than one in three are women. It called for legislation to limit councillors to serving five consecutive terms and to limit leaders to three consecutive terms. The LGA believes that such a proposal could limit the choice of voters unnecessarily.
The LGA, IDeA and the Leadership Centre for Local Government are committed to working closely with other organisations and the sector as a whole to support other recommendations and to promote good practice and see where suggestions from the Commission can be put in place.
Nine councils will be identified to pilot a number of the Commission’s recommendations. Work will also be carried out to clarify the role and expectations of councillors, to identify and promote how councils can become more relevant to young people and to explore the creation of an independent body to make recommendations on allowances.