Ruth Kelly, Secretary of State for Communitites and Local Government, has announced a commission to look into how to revitalise councils and ensure they are more representative. With the announcement was a survey result showing that 96% of councillors are white and that over 50% of councillors are over 60.
Ms Kelly has identified an important problem with our local democracy. Why is it that large firms are clamouring to get involved in social enterprise but perhaps do not see serving as a councillor in the same light? The survey also shows that 40.9% of councillors are retired, slightly up from 2004. This must reflect the increasing burdens of being a councillor coupled with pressures in the world of work. Retired people have time and experience they can take with them of course, which should not be ignored. Still, two things are required to make councils more representative in terms of age: being a councillor must be seen to more people as being worthwhile in terms of ability to actually change things; and people need more time.
Councils do change things. A bad council certainly has an impact.
The news release is at http://www.communities.gov.uk/index.asp?id=1002882&PressNoticeID=2352 .
The composition of councils should reflect the local electorate as much as possible in terms of diversity. Our experience in the Labour Party in Lambeth (www.lambethlabour.com) has shown that it is only when a political party is proactive about getting people involved that change occurs. This is not about getting people from BME communities to volunteer to be candidates at the last minute but about encouraging people to play an active part in local party life. The diversity represented by our Labour Group is testimony to the approach Labour adopted here.