How can councils make sure that they are representative of our diverse communities? Read the advice of our experts and share your own ideas
Martin Garnar is an equalities officer at Enfield council
Talking to people is crucial: We need to find out people’s needs, respond to their demands and communicate with them. Equality cannot be achieved by legislation alone – it requires a massive cultural change.
Consult with diverse and under-represented communities: In Enfield we have an ‘on your doorstep campaign’ where each week we set up a presence in different parts of the borough. This allows officers to engage with individual residents and families to find out their concerns and needs. This opportunity is publicised before we go into each area to make sure we get a big response.
Ted Cantle is chair of the Institute of Community Cohesion foundation
Try to improve representation but not just by ticking boxes: Be intelligent about diversity within communities and take positive action where necessary.
Local government has done more than most to tackle sexism: An enforcement regime has been only part of the answer. We need to promote a diversity culture, and that has to initially come from both officer and member leadership. Providing role models is the ultimate answer. We need more women in leading positions. Diversity has to become the new normal
Involve local people in the re-design of services: It’s hard to be truly diverse within local government’s current slightly paternalistic approach of top-down service delivery.
Ed Walton is senior community development officer at Hampshire county council
Too often power is held somewhere away from communities: Working more closely to involve communities in decision making, helping people to understand the statutory duties to be adhered to is key to developing capacity in communities.
Confidence building can help: People need to feel confident that the system can better reflect minority views. Elected members and communities need to know about each other – there’s a lot of relationship building to be done, particularly for newly elected members.
Carrie Bishop is director of Futuregov
What do people think about the mayoral model as a way of encouraging diversity? It seems as though this approach it might give a bit more room for voters to get to know the individual rather than the party.
Siobhan Benita is a director of policy and strategy at the University of Warwick’s economics department
Some councils are making a difference: Despite this, overall the pace of change remains too slow and we still have lack of diversity at a local level. The barriers to change include a lack of understanding about the work of local officials and councillors.
Role models are important: I believe it’s extremely valuable for people who reach the top, regardless of their background, to help others coming up behind them. Mentoring schemes and the like are very useful for the mentor not just the mentee as they receive good feedback on what they are like as a leader and what other people in the organisation are feeling.
The issues are similar to those in central government: The issues are to do with perceptions of the work – for example, asking what do officials do – and stereotypes of the type of people who work in government. For women in particular, the issues are around flexible working and career progression. Equality must be maintained at the more senior levels.
Abid Dar is equality and diversity manager at Surrey county council
We need to promote local government as a good place to work: I’m happy to get more ideas around community engagement particularly around promoting local government as a great place to work. We have many innovative initiatives, including an internal mediation service, fairness champions, a coaching culture, workforce Planning and a programme of activity to better reflect local communities.
Peter Fleming is leader of Sevenoaks district council
What the panel thinks are the biggest barriers or challenge for diversity in local government? I think for different groups the barriers are different: for those on benefits, allowences can be an issue and for those at the start of their careers finding the time is difficult. Employers aren’t always very supportive; some of the ways councils orgainise themselves , the time they chose to have meetings, is a barrier.
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