Thursday, 15 January 2009

REFLECTING OUR COMMUNITY

Interesting article in today's Times about Councils being full of old white men.

Thanet Council is vastly over represented with retired people or those who are semi-retired. In the Labour Group more than half of councillors are retired. For the Independents it is two thirds of their group. For the Conservatives I estimate the proportion as being between a half and two-thirds.

I know we are an aging society but we are a long way short of representing our community. As councillors we should reflect the community we serve. I think there is only 1 councillor under 30 my Labour colleague Kerry Harker.

I am unsure if there are any councillors aged between 30 and 40, certainly none in either the Labour or Independent Groups. There may be a few in the Conservatives, apologies if there are more!

Between 40-50 there is myself and Councillor Linda Aldred in the Labour Group. One of the Independents and maybe half a dozen Conservatives.

So that makes about 46 out of 58 councillors are over 50. I am all for wisdom and experience, I get more every day hopefully. It is not healthy to so disproportionately be biased in favour of older people. It affects our political culture.

I find officers repeatedly fail to understand the need to plan meetings in advance, and hold wherever possible to arrangements. They find it surprising that you may have to do the school run or have to pick up children mid afternoon. Whilst the majority of officers understand that for people who work lunchtime meetings may be best, many are resistant and seem to cling to a 2 hour lunch time period of non-meetings.

We make it difficult for parents to be councillors. Childcare once arranged cannot just be moved back or forward an hour or two, or a day or two. It also still has to be paid for even if meetings are cancelled. I would estimate less than 10 of the 58 councillors have school age children, probably less than half a dozen. Again how can we plan for our future when we make it difficult for this part of our society to participate in the democratic process. By default the expertise we provide is only part of what it should be.

I make this point regularly at meetings and I want to thank Councillor Bob Bayford Chair of Scrutiny Committee who has taken note of these issues, and improved how the Committee he Chairs meets. I hope with time more councillors and officers will understand that they are unintentionally discriminating against women and younger people being councillors.

That weakens the quality of our local democracy.

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