Headlines: January 16th, 2009

A think tank is calling for more support for existing councillors and improvements in the way people can become councillors to deal with the lack of demographic diversity among elected members of local authorities. The Local Government Information Unit says greater diversity would improve decision making.

The fifth census of councillors carried out by the Local Government Association and the Improvement and Development Agency found that the demographic make-up of councillors was still failing to represent the diversity of local communities. The survey showed that the average age of councillors had actually increased from 55 in 1997 to 59 last year. In the same period the number of councillors who are aged under 45 had fallen by more than five per cent to just over 13 per cent.

Jonathan Carr-West, who heads the LGiU’s Centre for Local Democracy said the poor demographic diversity of elected members was a real problem. The LGiU has argued for some time that greater diversity would be both more democratic and offer practical benefits.

“A more diverse mix of experience, outlook and background amongst councillors would lead to better local decision-making and enable councils to respond in more innovative and effective ways to the complex problems they grapple with,” said Mr. Carr-West.

The LGiU believes that making the pathways to becoming a councillor more accessible and offering existing councillors greater support could help to improve diversity. Jonathan Carr-West said the role of a councillor had to be made more meaningful and attractive. “That means continuing to devolve power from central to local government and being clearer about the ability of councillors to drive real changes for their communities,” he added.