Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

Memorandum by Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA) (LGA 23)


  1.1  The Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA) was founded in April 1999, by local government, to work with it and for it and help it do better.

  1.2  The IDeA's mission is to support self sustaining improvement from within local government.

  The agency aims to:

    —  deliver practical solutions to improve local government performance;

    —  develop innovative approaches to ensure the transfer of knowledge within local government;

    —  act on behalf of local government as a whole, building new platforms for joined up, locally delivered, services;

    —  employ first rate staff to meet the needs and priorities of our customers;

    —  work with our customers in a way which respects diversity and promotes equalities.

  1.3  The work of the IDeA is directed by a widely representative board of directors. It includes councillors from the Conservative, Labour, and Liberal Democrat parties as well as an Independent representative. The Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (SOLACE) has a place, as does the Trades Union Congress, Audit Commission, representatives from academia and the private sector, regional employers and the Society of Chief Personnel Officers (SOCPO).

  1.4  The recent White Paper, "Strong Local Leadership—Quality Public Services" recognised and welcomed work undertaken by the IDeA. It noted the significant contribution of the Local Government Improvement Programme (LGIP) and the online initiatives such as IDeA Knowledge and Learning.

  1.5  This submission relates to the role of elected members in light of the local Government Act 2000. Evidence is based on the second census of councillors undertaken by the IDeA and the Employer's Organisation (EO). The submission also notes IDeA services designed to support members, including our latest initiatives to the findings of the census. The agency hopes that this information will be of interest and value to the committee.


  2.1  The IDeA would therefore like to draw the committee's attention to a recent census of all local authority councillors. The agency believes that the results of this census highlight an increasing need to support members and invigorate entry into public office by groups in society currently under represented. This is particularly valid in light of the enhanced role of councillors arising from the Local Government Act 2000.

  2.2  The IDeA and the Employer's Organisation (EO) commissioned the second national census of local authority councillors in terms of:

    —  Age

    —  Gender

    —  Race

    —  Disability

    —  Employment status

    —  Education and qualifications

    —  Length of service

    —  Membership of other councils

    —  Leadership/representation role

    —  Committee membership

    —  Party representation

  2.3  Replies to the census questionnaire were received from 374 (91.2 per cent) of the 410 authorities in England and Wales and from 12,013 (56.5 per cent) of the 21,268 councillors in office after the May 2001 elections. The survey results show grossed (by authority type) estimates for all 21,268 councillors in office in May 2001. Comparisons are shown for the 21,268 councillors in office in May 2001 and the 21,498 councillors in office in May 1997 in the first National Census.

  2.4  Councillors in office in May 2001 were predominantly male (71 per cent), and were aged over 45 (86 per cent). 2.5 per cent of councillors were members of an ethnic minority. Of those in employment (52 per cent) the majority (61 per cent) worked in the private sector and over half (65 per cent) were in managerial/executive or professional/technical jobs. Large proportions held a degree (32 per cent) or a professional qualification (20 per cent). 56 per cent held school governorships. Nearly half (46 per cent) were on an overview and scrutiny committee.

  2.5  Since 1997, Councillors have become slightly older, 57 years (56 years); more likely to have a disability 13 per cent (11 per cent) and be a full-time councillor 30 per cent (25 per cent). They were less likely to be a member of an ethnic minority 2.5 per cent (3.0 per cent) or to have a caring responsibility 28 per cent (34 per cent).

  2.6  Copies of the National Census of Local Councillors are available at or contact Edward Roddis (Tel: 0207 296 6585).


  3.1  The census highlights that the pool of people willing to serve as elected members is diminishing in terms of their demographic representation of society.

  3.2  The IDeA fully recognises and applauds the commitment and dedication of existing elected members. However, the agency suggests that a broader base of demographic representation is needed to maintain and develop civic renewal.

  3.3  The Local Government Act 2000 gave members the responsibility to lead the economic, social and environmental well being of their local communities. The welcome freedoms that are emerging as a result place a heightened level of responsibility on councillors. This places an even greater emphasis on the need for widening the pool of individuals prepared to stand as elected members.


  4.1  Change is needed in three areas in order to invigorate a broader demographic base: persuasion, promotion and legislation.

  4.2  In terms of persuasion, the role of political parties is fundamental to increasing the range of people willing to serve as councillors. 95 per cent of councillors of first and second tier authorities are representatives of the main political parties. Changing the composition of the councillor population will require the commitment of all parties and independent groups. Further, political parties should act as "talent scouts" and not "gatekeepers".

  4.3  In terms of promotion, it is important to recognise the individual and collective rewards of serving as a councillor. There are several national accolades for Parliamentarians, but the IDeA is not aware of comparable awards for recognition for leading councillors.

  4.4  Also regarding promotion, the IDeA has developed a Member Development Charter in association with the CBI, LGA, TUC, British Chambers of Commerce, Commission for Racial Equality, Equal Opportunities Commission and others. It was designed in response to new challenges within local government, such as those presented by the Local Government Act 2000. It asks councils to provide a minimum of five days training and development through individual learning accounts for members and support those with family and work commitments. For their part, business and public sector partners agreed to support and encourage their employees to become councillors so that authorities can tap into a broader base of experience. Their involvement was advocated in the declaration on political services devised by the Industry and Parliament Trust.

  4.5  Member's time is of course at a premium, particularly where the councillor is in full time employment. For this reason, use of their time can be maximised through new technologies such as video conferencing.

  4.6  The Good Employers Award created by the IDeA also promotes the role of councillors and encourages a more diverse range of members by encouraging people of working age to enter local government.

  4.7  In terms of legislation, the Sex Discrimination Act currently progressing through Parliament will allow political parties to promote all women shortlists for selections at local, Parliamentary and European elections. Each party will have to decide if this is their preferred route but the experience in France last year may be relevant. The French Government introduced legislation which meant that all political parties had to nominate women candidates for 50 per cent of all council selections. Despite objections from all parties, the legislation meant that the required numbers of women candidates were found. Compulsion through legislation is clearly the least desirable option. However, it is evident that political parties and other organisations may need to review their selection processes.


  5.1  The IDeA provides a range of services designed to support councillors. Relative to the Local Government Act 2000, these include practical publications such as "A Councillor's Guide 2001" and "A Practitioners Guide to Overview and Scrutiny". Other initiatives include:

    —  Leadership Academy—a modular programme designed to maximise the political, organisational and community skills of leading members

    —  Fast Track Scheme for future local leaders—aimed at addressing issues of concern identified in the National Census of Local Councillors. The scheme will identify councillors under 35 to attend a fast track development scheme that will build leadership capacity within local government. The scheme will be launched in the autumn with places for 40 applicants. Over five years, the scheme will build a pool of 200 councillors from all parties and groups.

    —  Good Employers Award—aims to encourage more people of working age to stand as councillors by recognising businesses that support employees who want to become councillors.


  6.1  The IDeA welcomes the opportunity to draw the committee's attention to the National Census of Local Authority Councillors.

  6.2  Appropriate staff from the agency are of course willing to provide oral evidence to the committee on this matter or other matters concerning local government.

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Prepared 22 April 2002