Interesting article in today's Guardian about Ruth Kelly's plans that councillors should get their own budget to make it easier for them to help local people sort out problems quickly. This amount could be £10,000.
This comes as part of a drive to try to make our councillors more representative of the people they represent, which they currently certainly are not. A councillor census shows that 96% of councillors are white, their average age is 58 and only 29% are women. It also shows that only 23% are in full time work with 40% retired. Only 0.3% are under 25.
Not only is it bad, but it could be getting worse. The gender balance has hardly altered since 2004 and the average age has actually risen! So something certainly needs to be done to redress this problem of having councillors who don't look like those they represent. Could the reason not enough people are interested in politics be because politicians are seen as middle aged white men in grey suits?
I think the £10,000 idea could be a good idea in itself although I'm not sure it will attract more people into wanting to become councillors. From my previous experience as a councillor, when I had a very small budget of £2,000 this was useful, but a drop in the ocean to really get anything done. So £10,000 could be a step in the right direction, but when you think what you can actually get for that amount, in terms of really being able to help the community, it's still a pretty small amount when you look at what a council actually spends.
A raft of measures is needed to give councillors real power. The diversity issue will only be solved when all political parties take action when choosing their own candidates. The Labour party is the only party which is currently bold enough to take this major step.
Ruth Kelly thinks that not enough people are coming forward, including younger people, women and ethnic minorities, because they don't think that councillors have enough power and she intends to address this. I'm glad that she's looking at this issue and I think it's important that ward councillors have more power to really help in their communities.
I think that the major issue is work life balance, if being a councillor could fit in with work, being a parent and having a life then that would be real progress!
The diversity issue is certainly a problem in Leeds, looking at the executive board of Leeds City Council, which is currently run by Conservative/Liberal Democrat/Green parties which clubbed together to form an alliance, even though Labour is still the biggest party by far! The coalition took over in 2004 and not one woman from Tory, Lib Dem or Green parties has been allowed to serve on the executive board, which makes most of the decisions of the council, and each executive board member leads a department of the council. Can the women in these parties not be trusted to run such things as city services, social services or any of the other council services? I suspect they would do a better job than most running them at the moment! Or could it be that this would mean less jobs for the boys?