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A new commission on representation of women in local government has been launched today by The Fawcett Society.  The Commission will run for a year and is co-chaired by Margaret Hodge MP and local councillor Gillian Keegan, in partnership with local government think tank and membership organisation, LGiU.


The Fawcett Society has played a leading role in championing women’s representation and lobbying for women’s rights since Millicent Fawcett’s first petition for the women’s vote in 1866.  More recently it has campaigned to improve women’s representation in politics including for all women shortlists which was legislated for in the Sex Discrimination Act 2002.  Women’s political participation and representation remain a core feature of its work.


Currently women make up only 32% of local councillors in England, 27% in Wales, 13% of elected mayors and 12.3% of local authority leaders in England, compared to 16.6% in 2004.  2015 saw the number of women in the UK Parliament increase – particularly the number of women on the front bench, but at local level, women’s representation is stagnating.


The Commission’s launch paper is an analysis of women’s representation in the ‘Northern Powerhouse’.   Launched by Chancellor George Osborne in 2014 the Northern Powerhouse is the centrepiece of the Government’s devolution agenda.  The Government’s devolution agenda and commitment to creating a Northern Powerhouse has seen significant powers and budgets passed from Whitehall to newly established combined authorities.


The key findings of the report are:


  • 40% of local councillors in the Northern Powerhouse region are women, but women make up just 21% of council leaders and directly elected mayors
  • Only 2 of the 7 chairs of the established and proposed combined authorities in the Northern Powerhouse region are women
  • Of 134 senior leadership roles in the Northern Powerhouse 96 (or 72%) of these are occupied by men
  • The City deals underpinning devolution come with a commitment to regional directly elected mayors – but so far only 4 of the 16 existing directly elected mayors in England and Wales are women.


The local government commission will also gather evidence over the next 12 months on:


  • women’s representation at a local level, and in particular focus on women in positions of power and leadership and where women make a positive difference
  • the barriers to women’s participation and representation and the practical solutions which would enable more women to participate
  • the diversity of women’s representation including BAME women, disabled women, those with caring responsibilities and different age groups.

Read the report.

A new report by the Counting Women In coalition Sex and Power 2014: Who Runs Britain? has found that progress on women’s representation in politics has stalled and in some cases declined.


The coalition – made up of The Fawcett Society, the Hansard Society, the Electoral Reform Society, the Centre for Women and Democracy, and Unlock Democracy – was formed in 2011 to address the lack of women in politics.  They believe the under-representation of women in Westminster, the devolved assemblies, and town halls around the UK represents a democratic deficit which undermines the legitimacy of decisions made in Parliament.  Their aim is to ensure women have an equal presence and voice within our democratic system. The report found that:


  • The 2015 General Election presents the next big opportunity for all parties to make progress.  Fielding women in target and retirement seats is the most reliable way of achieving this.
  • The Labour Party are leading the way with women making up 53.5% of those fielded in target and retirement seats.  The Liberal Democrat Party comes next with 40.5% and the Conservative Party is lagging behind on 34.5%.


In terms of current levels of women’s representation in national politics, women currently comprise only:


  • 22% of Cabinet Ministers
  • 23% of MPs
  • 23% of Members of the House of Lords


Women are also seriously under-represented in local government, particularly in leadership roles.  Only 13.1% of local government leaders are women – a 3.5% decline since 2004. And Britain is falling down the global league tables.  When it comes to women’s representation in politics, we have slipped dramatically from 33rd place in 2001, and 62nd place in 2010, to 65th in 2014. The report’s key recommendations are that:


  • All political parties should take (or continue to take) immediate action to increase the number of women candidates at all levels of election, using positive action if necessary.
  • Election authorities should use monitoring forms so that we can get a much better understanding of who is (and isn’t) standing for election in our democracy.
  • The media should ensure that their coverage of political issues includes women and their views, treats all contributors with the dignity and respect to which they are entitled, and accords with the Code of Conduct published by the National Union of Journalists.