Headlines: August 13th, 2008

The White Paper ‘Communities in control: real people, real power’ set out a challenging programme for devolving power to communities, but it was unclear how the proposed changes would affect different groups of people. Communities and Local Government has now made a forward look at how the equality agenda might be affected by giving control over local decisions and services to a wider range of people.

The aim of the White Paper is to pass power into the hands of local communities and generate vibrant local democracy. It contains a programme of policies to tackle some key problems linked to a sense of powerlessness on the part of many people and a feeling that voices are not being heard on a local level. The issues involved include declining levels of democratic engagement, declining perceptions of influence over local decision-making and declining levels of satisfaction with local government in England.

The forward look found that there is likely to be an increase in the number of people standing as councillors from under-represented groups, such as women, young people, people of working age, people from black and minority ethnic communities and disabled people of working age. There is also likely to be an increase in the retention rates of councillors from under-represented groups.

There is also a probability that equalities groups are underrepresented in wider civic roles, for example magistrates, school governors and youth offending panel members. The White Paper seeks to address these inequalities by encouraging more and different people to participate in these roles, for example through increasing the roles legally entitled to time off work available for people interested in getting involved in their communities.