Whilst our response to the COVID-19 pandemic and action for recovery remains at the forefront of our minds, elected members will also be aware of us moving through local and national election cycles. There are currently 12 wards where by-elections are due and now, more than ever, it is important that we encourage people from all parts of our communities to consider standing for election.
Individuals within our communities will be experiencing current circumstances very differently. We know for instance, that ethnic minority communities have been particularly adversely affected by COVID-19 and there is evidence that women, who traditionally take on caring roles at home, are being disproportionally disadvantaged. In ensuring that our councils reflect the communities they serve we will help ensure these voices are represented in our long- term recovery journey.
COSLA’s Barriers to Elected Office Group is building on its successful work to date which includes developing a Family Leave policy for councillors, with adjustments to how Special Responsibility Allowances can be paid. It has continued to work alongside the Improvement Service throughout the pandemic, with the aim of promoting diversity in elected office:
- The Improvement Service are currently piloting a mentoring programme for elected members who are willing to support people stepping forward for election for the first time. Volunteers interested in developing themselves as mentors are sought to participate in programmes later this year. Interest is particularly welcome from those seeking to support candidates or elected members with protected characteristics currently underrepresented in elected office (individuals from BME communities, disabilities, LGBT, women) as we strive to support everyone considering elected office.
- The Barriers to Elected Office Group’s Menopause Guidance for supporting councillors was circulated to councils in June. This guidance can be adopted by councils on a voluntary basis and should be considered as part of a suite of measures that can be taken to ensure that Councillors are able to take up and sustain elected office.
Work within the Barriers to Elected Office Group will continue over the coming months with key priorities being guidance on lone working for councillors and the promotion of civility in public life amongst other issues raised by serving councillors.
As we create our ‘new normal’ I would encourage each of you to ask what active step, big or small, you can take to help promote diversity in elective office through selection processes and beyond.
If you are someone from an underrepresented group considering standing again, or for the first time, I would encourage you to do so. We need our council chambers to be as representative as possible, enhanced by the lived experience of our councillors.
Being a councillor and delivering for communities is a very rewarding experience and it is essential that we identify and tackle the barriers which there are to participation for many.
Those interested in volunteering as a mentor should contact Hannah.Axon@cosla.gov.uk