Calls for more councillors from under-represented groups

Female county councillors outside County Hall in February wearing rosettes to mark 100 years since legislation was passed giving some women the vote for the first time in the UK
Female county councillors outside County Hall in February wearing rosettes to mark 100 years since legislation was passed giving some women the vote for the first time in the UK

Calls for more councillors from under-represented groups were made at County Hall last week.

Currently 23 of 70 West Sussex county councillors are women, fewer than one in three.

Lib Dem Kirsty Lord made the case for the council to start a project to explore the barriers in the way of women wanting to become councillors in West Sussex.

This would then make recommendations on how to increase the number of women who stand at the next elections in 2021.

An amendment by Joy Dennis, calling for the member development group to look at ways to encourage women together with other underrepresented groups wanting to become councillors, was approved on Friday. Mrs Dennis (Con, Hurstpierpoint and Bolney) said: “We should ensure a focus on all underrepresented groups whoever wishes to consider election as a councillor.”

Ms Lord (LDem, Burgess Hill South and Hassocks) said her motion was about looking at barriers at the council to women standing in a ‘systematic way’.

She acknowledge a need to increase participation for other groups such as people with a disability and residents from black and ethnic minority backgrounds.

But she added: “If we address barriers for these women we make it better for all under-represented groups and probably for men, too.”

Kate O’Kelly (LDem, Midhurst) argued the skills needed to be a councillor should be more well-known, Carol Purnell (Con, Selsey) pointed out that one of the biggest under-represented groups at County Hall was young people, while Jacquie Russell (Con, East Grinstead South and Ashurst Wood) felt they should be encouraging the right people for the role and it was about ‘quality not quantity’.

Meanwhile Jacky Pendleton (Con, Middleton) said there were opportunities for sessions in libraries to help under-represented groups ‘value their skills and their potential input about what they could do for their communities rather than a blanket: “We need more of this and more of that”’.

Sue Mullins, leader of the Labour group, backed an ongoing programme to boost diversity, as well as increase the number of women and young people on the council.

She described how men were taking on a more equal share of household duties, but women still carry out the ‘lion’s share’ of housework and caring responsibilities, while young families were under ‘extreme pressure’ trying to find suitable accommodation and well paid jobs.

Sean McDonald (Con, Northbrook) described Mrs’ Mullins comments as ‘outrageous’ and objected to being ‘portrayed as a lazy oaf’. He described how the council needed to be more representative but asked not to be criticised for being a white middle-aged middle-class man.

Mrs Mullins (Lab, Northgate and West Green) said she was sorry if he had taken what she said the wrong way.