|Jayne Bryant AM|
|Jenny Rathbone AM|
|John Griffiths AM||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Leanne Wood AM|
|Mark Isherwood AM|
|Bablin Molik||Cynghorydd yng Nghaerdydd a Chadeirydd Plaid Leol Caerdydd a’r Fro ar gyfer Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol Cymru|
|Councillor in Cardiff and Chair of the Cardiff and Vale Local Party, Welsh Liberal Democrats|
|Catherine Fookes||Cyfarwyddwr, Rhwydwaith Cydraddoldeb Menywod Cymru|
|Director, Women's Equality Network Wales|
|Cerys Furlong||Prif Weithredwr, Chwarae Teg|
|Chief Executive, Chwarae Teg|
|Chisomo Phiri||Swyddog Menywod, Undeb Cenedlaethol y Myfyrwyr, Cymru|
|Women’s Officer, National Union of Students Wales|
|Gareth Clubb||Prif Weithredwr, Plaid Cymru|
|Chief Executive, Plaid Cymru|
|Julia Griffiths||Cyd-brif Weithredwr Dros Dro, Youth Cymru|
|Joint Acting Chief Executive, Youth Cymru|
|Kathryn Allen||Is-lywydd, Cyngor Cymreig y Gwasanaethau Ieuenctid Gwirfoddol|
|Vice-president, Council for Wales of Voluntary Youth Service|
|Mike Payne||Cadeirydd, Pwyllgor Trefnu, Llafur Cymru|
|Chair, Organisation Committee, Welsh Labour|
|Paul Hossack||Uwch-swyddog Cyswllt, y Comisiwn Cydraddoldeb a Hawliau Dynol|
|Senior Associate, Equality and Human Rights Commission|
|Roger Pratt||Cyfarwyddwr yr Adolygiad Ffiniau, y Blaid Geidwadol|
|Boundary Review Director, Conservative Party|
|Steve Davis||Rheolwr Gwasanaeth, Grŵp Prif Swyddogion Ieuenctid Cymru|
|Service Manager, Wales Principle Youth Officers Group|
|Tom Harrison||Swyddog Rhanbarthol, UKIP Cymru|
|Regional Officer, UKIP Wales|
|Uzo Iwobi OBE||Prif Swyddog Gweithredol, Cyngor Hil Cymru|
|Chief Executive Officer, Race Council Cymru|
|Catherine Hunt||Ail Glerc|
|Sarah Bartlett||Dirprwy Glerc|
|1. Cyflwyniad, Ymddiheuriadau, Dirprwyon a Datgan Buddiannau||1. Introductions, Apologies, Substitutions and Declarations of Interest|
|2. Ymchwiliad i Amrywiaeth ym Maes Llywodraeth Leol: Sesiwn Dystiolaeth 3||2. Inquiry into Diversity in Local Government: Evidence Session 3|
|3. Ymchwiliad i Amrywiaeth ym Maes Llywodraeth Leol: Sesiwn Dystiolaeth 4||3. Inquiry into Diversity in Local Government: Evidence Session 4|
|4. Ymchwiliad i Amrywiaeth ym Maes Llywodraeth Leol: Sesiwn Dystiolaeth 5||4. Inquiry into Diversity in Local Government: Evidence Session 5|
|6. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(vi) i Wahardd y Cyhoedd o Weddill y Cyfarfod||6. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(vi) to Resolve to Exclude the Public from the Remainder of the Meeting|
|5. Papurau i'w Nodi||5. Papers to Note|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:17.
The meeting began at 09:17.
Welcome everyone to this meeting of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee. The first item on our agenda today is introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest. We've received apologies from Siân Gwenllian, Gareth Bennett and Jack Sargeant. Are there any declarations of interest? No.
Then we'll move on to item 2, which is evidence session 3 regarding our inquiry into diversity in local government. And I'm very pleased to welcome to committee to give evidence Cerys Furlong, chief executive of Chwarae Teg; Catherine Fookes, director of the Women's Equality Network Wales; Uzo Iwobi, chief executive officer of Race Council Cymru; and Paul Hossack, senior associate, Equality and Human Rights Commission. Welcome to you all. I hope I pronounced all your names correctly.
Perhaps I might begin then with some initial questions on culture and perception, and, initially, whether enough progress has been made in your view by all stakeholders, from the Welsh Government to the political parties themselves, in moving the diversity agenda forward in Wales. And, anticipating that your response may be in the negative, what needs to change? Who would like to begin? Catherine?
I'd love to. You're quite right; not enough progress has been made at all from Women's Equality Network Wales's perspective. There's extremely poor representation at local government of women. Only 28 per cent of councillors are women. Two cabinets in Wales have absolutely no women in them at all. There's very poor representation of black and minority ethnic women, disabled people, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people as well at councils. The barriers, as I'm sure you are all aware, include childcare, working practices, incumbency, social media harassment, I think, and the general perception that if you go into public life, you're going to get a hell of a lot of grief is also a really big barrier. And I think we need to tackle them all urgently. I just want to say that, interestingly, this consultation had the most responses from our members that we've ever had before on a consultation. Our individual members feel really strongly about this. Some of them have stood, some of them want to stand and may stand, and some of them came up with excellent solutions like funding needs to be made available to help under-represented groups get into local government, like an access-to-elected-office fund. A lot of them agreed with our ideas in our manifesto that we need to get 50/50 targets in for cabinets for councils and for the diversity of candidates put forward. Maternity provisions must be the same for local councillors as they are under legislation UK-wide. And the final thing I would say that's really important is that people mentioned that we need to hold perpetrators of online abuse and other kinds of harassment to account.
Okay. Thanks, Catherine, and we'll return to many of those matters during this session. Yes, Uzo.
Thank you, Chair. On behalf of the BAME Alliance for Wales, really, there has been very, very little progress made in this area of work. Many of our responses from members said that it's a wasted cause. One person in particular said that, if you look around, the colour of power is white. If you look at elected officers across the board, you have 40 constituency Members who filter from councillors into Assembly Members, and you have just one black minority ethnic person: Vaughan Gething. If you look at regional Members, you have 20 regional Members, eight Members are women, no BME people, and these are filtered through from council representation.
They feel quite strongly that you look around at elected members and my paper said it was 1.8 per cent, which is much lower than the 4.4 per cent that you have across Wales. Even more telling is the fact that there are no targets at all. There is no push by political parties to set a BME target. So, we're saying: why not consider 40 per cent to 60 per cent white, which is stretching but achievable? I think the women's target is 50/50.
I stood for the local council myself, and the racism and hatred that I personally faced on the streets of Swansea was when I approached doors with my colleagues, three white colleagues, and people would say, 'I don't want to talk if the black one is there.' And the way that my colleagues had to manage that situation—they were torn and caught between, 'Actually, don't come because you're spoiling our chances at getting a vote' or 'This is terrible. If you're a racist, we're not going to want your vote anyway.' It was a very, very stressful and seriously eye-opening experience for me. And watching the ballots being counted, there were people who wasted votes—you could see the people who voted three for the party that I stood for, and we had four spaces. They voted for three and wasted one vote rather than voting for any other party. So, it was clear that they didn't want to vote for me personally. There might be reasons for that, but to me it is horrendous.
I feel that Wales today really needs to look at itself. The colour of power in local authorities—and I've canvassed—there's only one chief executive who is in an interim position in Powys and who is not on their website. But looking at the whole picture across local authorities, there is no BME person in any senior management position, as an officer, and very few in elected positions, in council positions. I do encourage the National Assembly to change this rhetoric. This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the passing of the Race Relations Act of 1968, and we haven't seen progress for ethnic minority people.
Okay, Uzo. Thanks for that. It's very concerning to hear of your experience, but it's not unfamiliar, I know, to at least some of us who obviously have knocked doors and campaigned on numerous occasions. Jenny, you wanted to come in on this.
Yes. The level of racism throughout society is a huge problem for us all. I just wanted to—. The area where you stood to be a councillor, was it an area that was quite diverse, or—?
It was interesting; I think it's a mixed area. I stood in the Uplands in Swansea, so fairly, you would say, academic. A mixture of students and long-term residents. It's definitely not a former Communities First area, but there was diversity from the student population and we'd done a lot of work to recruit the students to register. So, I guess the 1,300-odd votes that I got must have come from diverse people who live there, but I think it was shocking, and it became clear to all of us as we watched those ballot sheets that, well, three people are voted in and one person isn't. And some of them actually said it to my face: 'I'm sorry, it's nothing personal, but I won't vote for a black person.'
It sounds absolutely ghastly. Since your terrible experience, have other ethnic minority people been elected in Swansea? I'm afraid I'm not—
No, they haven't. There's quite a strong sense that there is no genuine interest to elect people. I have started working hard to encourage diverse, ethnic minority people who show an interest. I think what is needed is specific funding which Race Council Cymru's hoping to work with Operation Black Vote to deliver in Wales. Specific, empowering leadership, coaching and mentoring, and coaching for performance is what we're looking at, where individuals are empowered within themselves to find strategies to overcome the negativity.
So, I, for one, was shocked because I've lived in Wales, I feel a Welsh girl. Rydw i'n dysgu Cymraeg. I'm learning Welsh, and I'm so delighted to be a member of Welsh society. But I was shocked at the negativity that happened to me, with all my experience. Imagine how daunting it will be for somebody who's just starting out, a young person. So, I think that we have this job, if there was specific targeted funding, for us to deliver a Wales-wide leadership programme, along the lines of the Jo Cox leadership training, which is available for women. I think something specifically targeting public life and political opportunities for ethnic minority people to stand for political power; I think that would really be energising.
In Cardiff, there are ethnic minority representatives on the local authority in at least two parties, there may be a third, I can't recall. Is there anything—? What's so different about Cardiff? Because Swansea is smaller, but it's a city as well.
Swansea is equally as diverse as Cardiff, with the City of Sanctuary movements, as you know. I think people, I would say, just need the courage to stand and to find that sense of leadership and that willingness to look at role models—we don't have many role models in Swansea. The only black African councillor we have is Yvonne Jardine—she's the only one. And across the other political parties, I just feel that there has to be that decision to engage with the local BME people to encourage them to—. It doesn't matter which party people come from, as long as they're standing, to be honest—even as independents. We'd really encourage people to step up and try. But I think it's just that hesitancy that came through strongly in the survey that we did for this inquiry, that people were saying it's a lost cause—'There's no interest in us.' There's been a target set for women, and changes are happening. Why can't there be targets set for ethnic minority people?
Is it your view that it's also an issue as to whether your name is recognisably not traditionally British? Is that a factor?
I think, certainly, Chair, that the fact that you're starting with an Iwobi name, people just say, 'Oh, how will I remember that?' and I say, 'Well, Uzo is like a Greek drink.' [Laughter.] So, anything goes. Just try and remember me.
Thank you. Just coming back to what you were talking about, the targets for getting more women into politics and elected, how can we get more black and ethnic minority women to stand, then, as well? Because there are quotas at the moment for women in local government, but it's still quite difficult to bring more black and ethnic minority women into those positions.
I was just speaking to Cath about that. What we're looking for is not just mentoring generally. Mentoring is fantastic for people to step into senior management positions, but we're calling for targeted political leadership training for ethnic minority women led by organisations that are ethnic minority, in partnership with Chwarae Teg, Women's Equality Network, and a variety like Operation Black Vote, who are experienced at getting people to vote in London. I think them bringing their knowledge and expertise to the table will really, really be positive for Wales.
It's not easy, because people are discouraged, people are demotivated, and they generally cannot see the wood for the trees. But I think that if we have a focused system and do a pilot development project and learn from the successes of Women's Equality Network and Chwarae Teg, and say to them, 'These women have been through the courses and have actually stood and been successful and have stood for election. Let's see how we can make this happen.' I do think that concerted funding needs to be put into this, because the third sector is experiencing a lot of difficulties with accessing such funding.
Yes, can I just add a couple of things? Obviously, I agree with everything that's been said. The question is about perceptions and culture change. I think from what you've heard from Uzo, and certainly my own experience as a councillor, it's not about perception, it's about the reality of what it's actually like to be a councillor or a candidate standing for election, as you've articulated. And the point about what our local government looks like currently, both officers and elected members, is a really huge barrier to people standing.
I met some young women from Butetown recently who, when I talked to them about this place, said, 'Well, why would I even go there when there's no-one who looks like me there? I wouldn't even set foot over the threshold.' So, I think we've got a significant way to go. Certainly, in my experience, in the first group meeting I went to after being elected, I was told, 'Well you're obviously a bright'—I was young at the time—'young woman, but we lost a lot of good people in this election', and that perception that I didn't have as much of a right to be there as others.
I suppose a couple of other things I'd say is that there's a huge reliance—. I think quotas are really important, but there is not a commitment to quotas across the board and there's a fragile over-reliance on a couple of political parties that do drive through progressive approaches to selecting candidates, but even within those, they're fragile because there's an over-reliance on volunteers and party members. Certainly, I know from my experience the second time I stood, being very involved in the selection and encouraging people to stand for election in Cardiff, it was only really through the personal commitment of a couple of members and party officers saying, 'We must get more diversity of candidates', but frankly, no-one was putting pressure on us to do that, or even encouraging us to do it; that came from a small number of people in the area feeling that it was the right thing to do. So, I think the kinds of things that Jenny mentions, there have been some greater successes in Cardiff, but I think that could easily go backwards and there's nothing to suggest that that's embedded in good practice in Cardiff. I think one of the reasons is that people, both councillors and officers in local government, don't necessarily understand why lack of diversity is a problem, whereas if you relate it to organisations and businesses, there's much greater understanding outside of elected office of why diversity is essential. I think there's a figure that 85 per cent of global CEOs say that diversity absolutely enhances their business's performance, but you don't have that sort of narrative within local government or politics. You get more of a kind of, 'Well, it's a meritocracy. I'm here by my own rights,' and I always want to bust that myth of a meritocracy, especially when lots of women talk about it as if to say that there aren't 50 per cent of female candidates who would be perfectly well placed to stand for elected office.
Just one other thing: we have a responsibility, all of us who are in positions of power and influence, including yourselves, to do something about it. I think Leanne mentioned in a speech some time ago, talked about niche issues, and there being no such thing as niche issues, but, actually, when we talk about issues that impact on women, that impact on black, Asian, minority ethnic communities and other groups who are not as well represented in this place, or in council chambers, they're not well attended by members. So, even the gender equality review that was discussed recently in the Assembly, apart from I think Mark, who may have been the only man—forgive me if I'm wrong, John, you may have been there as well, but it certainly wasn't well attended by members, and wasn't well attended by male members. So, I think there's a responsibility to understand that diversity is important to all of us.
Okay, thanks for that, Cerys. Paul, did you have anything to add, or are you content with—?
Yes, there are a few things that have come out of our recent report 'Is Wales Fairer?' that I think are relevant. So, although, from the statistics that we can see, we know that there are massive problems—just the stat that 98 per cent of candidates in the last local government elections were white is staggering enough, but what I think we do need is to recognise that data needs to be better. We need to set that foundation. Just looking at the National Assembly, we don't routinely collect and publish diversity data on the elected Members, or we don't have systems in place to report candidate data. So, one of the things that we'd like to see is enactment of section 106 of the Equality Act 2010. While that doesn't apply to local government, we'd also like to see the UK Government make amendments to that to allow it to cover local government. But I think it would be a missed opportunity if we didn't think about—as we make changes to our electoral systems in Wales, that we don't build data collection of diversity data into those processes. Because I think there is an opportunity for us to be doing that as we go forward.
I think, in addition to that, it's thinking about education. So, particularly, as we look to extend the voting franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds, I think it's important that we recognise the role that education has in making sure that we have a generation of young people that understand equality, human rights and democracy so that they can make educated votes and actually tackle some of the systemic prejudice of what we're talking about here, that, actually—yes, making sure that education is right and the curriculum reflects equality, diversity, human rights and democracy is really important.
Okay, thanks very much for that, Paul. Okay. Well, we've covered, to some extent, some of the ground that we had further questions on, but we can certainly go into more detail and be rather more specific as to what the solutions are, really. Because I think we'd all be agreed that there certainly is a problem that needs to be addressed. Job sharing: could I just ask about that—you know, to what extent do you think the possibility of a job-share approach to becoming a councillor would appeal to prospective candidates? Would that be significant?
I think job sharing is a really strong idea, and I know that in Swansea—Uzo can probably tell us more about this—there is some job sharing going on. I think as long as people understand it's one job, as in it's one role, it's the same cost to the taxpayer, it's equally divided—when one person stands down, it's—. You know, if one person decides to stand down, they both have to stand down; it's a complete job share. I think it really should be looked at both for the Assembly, although I know legislation would need to change, but I don’t think we should shy away from it, and I think in county council elections it would be a really good way of getting more diverse candidates. It kind of leads on to, 'Well, how about the pay? Does the pay need to change?' But I do think job sharing should be a possibility, and it should definitely be something we should be pushing for.
I think it would also help—. I think, all these things, there is no silver bullet—we all know that—but I think if there's change on all these levels, the legislation, the quotas—. There are no quotas, actually, for women; it's just something that we're pushing forward; we want 50/50 quotas. But I think you need the legislative change to come from the top, and then you need things like job share, childcare, maternity and so on to feed into that.
Okay, thanks for that. If none of you disagree with that, shall we move on to employers?
I just want to clarify the issue about quotas and where we are with it, because I think it is important. All-women shortlists, particularly, are only allowed because of an amendment to the Equality Act 2010, the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act 2002, which allows parties to use all-women shortlists. But that has a sunset clause, which runs out in 2030. Now, we've looked at the last four rounds of local elections in Wales since 2004 at the progress made on just female candidates, because it's absolutely appalling when it comes to other characteristics. But, if you look at female candidates, we've gone from 22 per cent to 28 per cent in that time, and, every election, we've fielded more women. And where women are selected and stand, they're quite successful at getting elected. So, you know, most women who stand for election in local government get elected, but we won't get to 50/50 on the current trend until 2073.
Now, if the sunset clause comes in in 2030 and all-women shortlists are stopped before then, then we're absolutely stuffed. Now, that would require legislation at a UK level, but there are, I think, things that we can do in Wales and commitments that parties can make to extend that. But it won't happen by accident; it has to be committed to.
Because the other thing that is possible is that, under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, CEDAW, there is an article that states can take special measures to do things like get 50/50 representation. So, that's another option that we'd like Welsh Government to consider, and they are currently considering whether CEDAW can be incorporated, which is really important for women's rights.
Chair, can I just say also that, under the Equality Act 2010, there is that possibility for the committee to consider the elements relating to positive discrimination—where two candidates have the same sort of qualifications, you select the ethnic minority one—and that was not possible previously under the earlier Race Relations Act 1965. So, there is opportunity, I think, for the committee to make strong recommendations about a change and the need to set these targets. I'll give one little example in Cardiff, which is the most cosmopolitan, I would say, city. They have 75 councillors. Only 11 are from ethnic minority communities, and that's the highest across the whole of Wales.
And I echo what Paul said. The difficulties we've had as Race Council Cymru collecting the actual stats, we've had to look at the Facebooks and websites of local authorities, and when you call them they say, 'Oh, we haven't updated our websites; the information there isn't quite correct'. So, I say to them, 'Can you give me these specific figures?' 'Well, we don't always collect them across north Wales, south Wales, mid Wales', so, real—.
Issues on that. Okay. Okay. We have to move on because, as ever, we have limited time. The role of employers in encouraging and supporting employees who wish to stand for election or, indeed, are elected as councillors, and, you know, whether flexible working features to the extent that it should, and the possibility of employers being reimbursed for the time that their employees spend on council duties—how significant do you think those issues are?
I can talk a bit about my own experience. When I was elected as a councillor, my employer was very supportive; in fact, it had a policy in place to support public appointments or standing for elected office. So, it did allow me a certain amount of time off, as long as I accounted for all of my work and what I needed to get done. But all of this goes—. And, certainly, I think that's best practice in terms of what we would expect employers to do and support, but all of this goes hand-in-hand with issues around the times at which council meetings are held, how we try to get the balance between supporting people who may have caring responsibilities versus those who work, and that's a perennial problem for most elected chambers of any sort. So, I don't think there's, as Catherine said earlier, one simple answer to that. But having a supportive employer certainly removes a barrier, because, if you don't have a supportive employer, then it's a non-starter in the first place. Most people don't even know that they can ask the question.
Yes, that is something that came through strongly with us, Chair, that many people didn't know that they could ask. And also a couple from the private sector said that their employers would be very negative, because they expect them to turn up and put in as many working hours, and they felt that the responsibilities of being a councillor would impact their jobs negatively, because they would feel they'd been drawn away more from what pays them on a day-to-day basis. So, there was a fair bit of anxiety about even talking about it to public sector, policing sector, with the current squeeze on funding.
Okay. It leads us on, really, to information and support—. Mark, sorry.
A very small one on this, and it goes back to my own experience before I was elected to the Assembly. I think employers are also concerned, if an employee is standing for a party, that they don't wish to be seen by their customer base as aligned to any party and have a nervousness about that as well.
That's right. That's right. That's something that we—. In fact, when I chose to stand as a councillor, I was a trustee with the British Red Cross. I was required to stand down, because they didn't want to be affiliated to any, or be seen to be linked, even though I was just standing for council. So, I'd served for about five and a half years, and I had to stand down. And that puts people off, because you do want to give your time to worthy charities. But making that choice, especially when you have no certainty of winning, of being elected, is a bit difficult.
And I think that speaks to people's lack of understanding about the role of local government, because, certainly, after I was elected, my employer saw it as a positive that I was able to gain that kind of breadth of experience across a range of public services, essentially, that otherwise I would not have been able to bring, plus the networks and connections that you make, the depth of understanding about a range of policy areas. So, I think it flipped their thinking. And that's the positive that I always say to people considering standing, particularly if it's at an early or a pivotal point in your career: it will give you an absolute breadth of understanding of a range of issues that you wouldn't get in any other job or walk of life. But employers are often reluctant if they don't understand how local government works, which many employers wouldn't.
Okay. In terms of information and support, is there enough information for the public on a local and national level about the roles and responsibilities of councillors, and are local politicians linking with our communities effectively? If not, what are the sort of key messages as to how we might overcome those problems?
I would suggest that perhaps we could propose a two-pronged approach, where more information is produced and distributed through local community centres, through established grass-roots, ethnic minority groups across Wales, but also through organisations, employers, like some of those in—you know, local authorities themselves, in policing sectors, in private sectors. Let there be information sharing and an encouragement at all sorts of levels—the local education authority, you know, all the public, private and third sector strategic boards, where the message could be got out that all staff should be briefed about the opportunity to be supported, as organisations that are forward thinking.
I think if that message came from the head of the organisation, people would definitely stand for it, but I think it's the fear of being seen as lazy, not wanting to give 100 per cent to your workplace, not being dutiful and faithful; that is the challenge.
Unless you're a member of a political party already, there is no information about being a councillor that I've seen out there. Unless you are a member or you're tapped into the independent sector, which is becoming stronger in Wales, I just don't think there's any information. To me, it's all about Uzo's points, yes, definitely, but also education in schools. We've got to get political education into schools to start that process off early. The Youth Parliament is obviously a great thing and raises awareness, but what else are we doing in every single primary and secondary school across Wales to say to everybody and all different protected characteristics, 'You can be a councillor'?
Very briefly. Eco councils and school councils exist in every school—some are more effective than others, but why isn't that feeding through?
I don't know. I've been a school governor in a primary school and now my kids are at secondary school, and it just doesn't seem that political education is on the agenda. My kids know all about it because I bang on about politics all the time, but most children do not have a political parent and we can't bank on it. Eco councils and school councils are not about political education, they're about running the school. It's incumbent, I think actually, on councillors to get out into schools as well and do more political education.
Some of us had to do that by accident more than design because of the lack of childcare. [Laughter.]
Thank you, Chair. We've already mentioned some of the schemes that are available. Just focusing first of all on the Welsh Government's diversity in democracy, we've heard how few people have actually been elected from that programme—if there are any comments particularly on that one, but perhaps you'd all like to say a bit about Chwarae Teg's leadership scheme and WEN's mentoring scheme as well and just talk about how effective you think they've been so far.
I don't know much about the diversity in democracy scheme, although Daniel from the Welsh Local Government Association sits on our steering group at WEN for our mentoring scheme, so we're trying to share lessons. Our mentoring scheme for WEN is coming to an end, actually, and we're celebrating the end of it this evening—our first nine months. It's been really well received by mentors and mentees alike.
It's got three elements. It's got mentoring, which is a one-to-one relationship between the mentor and mentee. It's got training, so we put on days like media training, dealing with the media, social media resilience, how to respond to bullying and harassment, public speaking—very important, obviously, if you want to go into politics. We've put on a series of about six different training days, so that's the second part of it. And the third part of it, which is incredibly important and something, actually, I learnt from talking to the organisers of the Jo Cox scheme, is peer-to-peer support. So, that is the women supporting each other, and myself and Chrissie, the mentoring scheme project manager, supporting the women. We're in a WhatsApp group, it's as simple as that, and if jobs come up, if people are having difficulties, 'I've got a media interview on x', we can help them. It's a fantastic peer-to-peer support scheme.
So, it's for women to get more into politics and public life. We have 26 women on the scheme. It was the first year, that's how much we felt we could deal with, with the funding we had and so on, and what's become obvious is all the women have progressed in different ways depending on what their objectives were. Some of them have become trustees, some of them have put themselves forward to be governors of local schools, a couple of them are going to stand and have put themselves forward for selection. But I think what we have to be careful of with these schemes is, often, people aren't immediately going to stand. It's about building their confidence, and certainly some of the feedback we've had is that women who've been mentored have got increased confidence. Some of them have done interviews on BBC Wales and so on. They'd never have done that before. They're speaking up. They feel they can voice their opinions. I think some of them will stand later, now is not the right time or whatever. So, I think you have to do these schemes, they're incredibly important, and, obviously, we want more people women and diverse women to stand, but it's not necessarily going to be—six months after the scheme, people stand. It's a more long-term thing. We've just got to keep on with it, and keep going with our cohorts every year.
I totally agree. I think everything that Catherine said is our experience from previous schemes that Chwarae Teg ran with the Presiding Officer's Women in Public Life, and our current LeadHerShip scheme. There's huge appetite for people to take part in these. We've extended LeadHerShip from working just in the Assembly working just in the Assembly to also local government and the private sector this year. But, I suppose the challenge for all of us as organisations, and I'm sure Uzo will have experienced the same, is we're only able to make a small impact with a small number of people. And that's important; it's not to do down the value of that. But we don't have any comprehensive scheme or longevity that would lead to the kind of systematic or systemic change that we need. So, to some extent, the frustration can feel that you're almost tinkering around the edges, and, I suppose—we started to have this conversation outside the room about how you join up some of that and share best practice.
That's right. For us, the Welsh Government's diversity and democracy programme, which ran for three years, has been really celebrated in newsrooms and with quite a lot of press around it. It seemed to be celebrated for successes, but for ethnic minority people, it didn't really make any difference. We haven't seen evidence that many BME people came through that process and were successfully elected or stood for office or even tried. So, I think some of what we're asking people is, at the end of programmes such as WEN Wales, 'What has worked? What hasn't worked? Share the lessons so that, as we design new leadership training opportunities and development, we can learn lessons and look at how we improve.' So, there's co-production, co-sharing, and celebrating the successes so that more people see them and say, 'Actually, that's worked for this person. I can do that.' I think shouting out about good news stories—even one BME person getting through such a programme—and telling all about it would encourage others to come forward. But that isn't happening.
You touched on role models, really, I think, and how can you see the role of role models helping in this?
In the leadership programme that we're looking to roll out, if we can get funding with Operation Black Vote—I'm going to be talking to Chwarae Teg and Women's Equality Network—we're looking at currently successful BME councillors from right across Wales coming together to mentor others. So, calling on all of them to exercise their public duty to encourage other people who they may not have even come into contact with or thought about, necessarily, to stand and share their own challenges, because, when I share the stories of how people said to me, 'I'm not comfortable with this person', it shocks them. But then they say, 'How do you handle that? How do you deal with that?' And maybe some of the ways I dealt with the barriers may not be their way of dealing with it, but it's learning, and we're all sharing experiences, and we can actually talk to those who encountered those barriers but still succeeded, and there are many of them in Cardiff that we can call on. A few more than anywhere else, really. So, I think it's about using role models to tell the good and not-so-good stories, and how people can actually overcome barriers in their own experience.
This is not just necessarily a role for your organisation—maybe it's more for parties, really—but about the diverse candidates who stand and them lose elections. The challenge then is, it might not at all have been in any way because—. It was just that the party in that particular area wasn't popular or they didn't get elected—it wasn't a personal thing. But how do we get those really good candidates who stood and went through that experience, so that we don't lose those in the future, because they've gone through that experience, but, sometimes, as you said, that could be off-putting to them? They could have, you know—.
I'm a very, very confident woman, I found myself floundering. I didn't want to go to local meetings because I felt I was the one who didn't get selected or elected. And for about five or six months, I avoided all my colleagues who got elected. And at the time, I thought, 'Right, I've got to shake myself out of this situation, because if can't get through this with all my own my training, and I've been a commissioner for racial for racial equality, I need to pull myself together; I'm better than them saying "no" to me.' It took a long time—nearly one year—before I ventured into a local branch meeting, and I had to call somebody that I respected in the party that I stood for, and I said, 'I need to have one-to-one mentoring.' And it was a leader that I admired, who was very high up in the party, and they were very, very supportive, and I met one to one to talk about how I was feeling. The mental journey of pulling apart what just happened to me on those doorsteps and having to confront racism when I was trying to serve my community, which is quite challenging, you know. So, I think I benefited from that one-to-one mentoring and coaching and they set targets for me to actually walk into the building, just stand inside the building and say 'hi' to everyone and walk out, and that was how I started. And then I'm back in now, doing my—
Yes, I have experience of this too, Uzo, having stood twice and lost, myself, as a candidate. I think it is really interesting that—. You know, you have to be quite resilient, and when you lose—. I lost by 14 votes the second time I stood, and it's really upsetting—there's no doubt about it. But I think what is lacking—. So, the experience I had, Uzo, was slightly similar in that, afterwards, you do feel like you're floundering. So, you've had the party around you, supporting you, helping you, you're out every night canvassing, you're at every meeting, and then you lose. You get some very nice messages on WhatsApp and a couple of phone calls the next day, and then you're on your own.
And there is no pastoral care. In fact, there isn't really, either, a system to say, 'You did brilliantly,' or whatever, if you did, you know, 'You did so well, we're going to look after you; there are more elections coming up.' No. That's it. And then it's up to you whether you go for it again, and many of us, perhaps, don't.
That seems to be a missed trick by the parties, really.
That's the challenge, isn't it? You encourage people to stand; some good candidates from all parties sadly lose, but we're losing cohorts of people, really—
And then two years later you're going out to try and find them again.
Thanks. I think you've just identified some of the problems that arise when you're dealing with organisations that are often run by volunteers and not paid staff members, and so those people who persuaded you to stand in the first place got elected, and now they're running a council, potentially. You're forgotten about. I've experienced that myself, and I'm sure it is off-putting and it can be quite a difficult thing to cope with. So, thanks for providing evidence on that.
There's an awful lot of anti-politician feeling around at the moment, and that's being encouraged by some political quarters, I would argue. Do you think that's affected the way in which public figures and politicians are viewed, and do you think that impacts, then, in terms of the diverse range of people who want to come forward and be representatives?
I definitely do. I definitely think that it is having an impact. People are really cynical about politicians at the moment, and there is a huge amount of bullying and harassment that goes on as well, and I don't know if your question is pertaining to that as well, but I think we really need to tackle the perpetrators and hold them to account, and unless we have strong codes of conduct in each political party and also between each political party about how people are going to conduct themselves, then I think people will still be put off. I think the other important thing to say about tackling this is we need an independent process. I think it's difficult for political parties themselves, for members of that political party, to adjudicate over cases, and I think we need independent adjudicators to give confidence to the public, because I think if young women are looking at the system today and looking at what's going on, they are really put off. It's certainly something a lot of our mentees have said: 'How am I going to deal with this? How am I going to be resilient? Do I want to put myself out there?' So, yes, I think it's a big responsibility on our leaders, here and in local councils, to tackle this.
I fully agree with what you've just said. I've spent quite a lot of time, over the years, trying to persuade more diverse candidates to come into politics, and one of the strong messages that I get back is: 'I see some of the stuff that you have to put up with on social media why would I put myself up for that?' And I haven't got an easy answer to give back, really, other than, 'We deserve not to have our voices silenced', and I think that's important. But not everybody's up for having that fight, are they?
Leanne, just before you go on, I think Mark just wanted to come in on this point.
Just on this point—you've probably heard me say this before—my wife, when she was a councillor, was subjected to some very unpleasant social media comments, which had a very negative impact on her own health. To what extent do we need to involve the ombudsman in taking this forward? A few years ago, after a spate of councillor on councillor complaints and officer on councillor complaints, the ombudsman brought in a requirement for local mediation first and so on. But if a councillor—a vulnerable councillor—is in a bad way and the council itself doesn't provide the support if the other party refuses to engage or reneges on any mediated agreement, how do we have a system to support the victim in these circumstances?
There is a role for the ombudsman. There's also a responsibility on the legal and monitoring officers to, kind of, at a very local level, keep a tight reign on it. Certainly, when I had a brief and unsuccessful spell chairing Cardiff council, we tried to improve the conduct within the council chamber, so that you create a culture where that is not tolerated, and if it's not tolerated in the council chamber, it's not tolerated in the platforms and the discussions around that, and that you create a more supportive network of councillors cross party to say, 'Actually, we want a higher standard of debate.' I think that takes a lot of discipline and commitment from existing councillors and the officers supporting that, because the tendency can be, as you've talked about here, just to default to a very confrontational-style debate that's very aggressive, very macho, where my experience was that women of all political parties would, sort of, eye-roll across the chamber as the next irate, older male councillor stood up to say his piece. So, I think that translates into social media as well. We have a responsibility to support each other and to call it out, and I think it's perfectly acceptable for the ombudsman to have a role in that.
Sorry, Chair. I was thinking that there's a real role for the media to play in terms of how they report on such negative behaviours. I think a cross-party approach on zero tolerance to bullying of especially female politicians. On social media, it's been horrendous, some of what they publish against people for taking a public office, and it really is discouraging. I think it was Kirsty Williams who talked about a lot of the negativity that had been addressed at her and how it affected her children and their concerns about going to school. I mean, this could really ruin a whole person's life, and I think maybe a cross-party approach on zero tolerance to bullying on social media, engaging with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram proprietors to agree a form of code of conduct, a cut-off point, where people's lives are respected, because it is discouraging to more people because when they see what's happening to those who have been elected it is very discouraging. You don't want to be picked on by everyone.
I'd like to know what this code of conduct looks like, because I can just see a whole can of worms being opened here. What happens, for example, when somebody who's clearly bullying claims to be a victim of bullying themselves? And then who is the arbitrator who decides all of that? And then, what happens if you involve the ombudsman and then the ombudsman is accused of being, in some way, partial in the whole question? So, it's very, very difficult territory, this, so if you do have access to a code of conduct that we could just take off the shelf and introduce, I'd be very grateful to see that.
We talked earlier on about education, and I think some of this starts at school, but, again, we need to be clear what we mean by bullying: what are the definitions? Especially some of the misogynistic or race-based bullying that we see, because, sometimes, it just stays over one side of a line and when you challenge that then you get accused of 'political correctness gone mad', and there's that whole debate that has arisen around that. So, it's not as easy as it sounds and I would say, with respect, it's not as easy as you're making it sound for us to put recommendations together on this. So, can you tell us then what you think can be done to change the culture that we are all operating within? And do you have examples of organisations that have got good codes of conduct, or other international examples that you are aware of where this is done really well? Because I just don't think we're touching the surface of it at the moment.
We haven't got a great deal of time today, and it's always possible for you to provide further written evidence to us following today, but by all means if you're able to respond briefly during this session, please do so.
Well, just on one small part of your very extensive question—[Laughter.]
I think there is—and I think I may have raised this with the standards committee as well, which has looked at some of this around codes of conduct—an issue around cumulative patterns of behaviour—
So, certainly in the council, when trying to chair things, there are repeated conversations with monitoring officers and trying to change the constitution so that we run the meeting in different ways, but people will always go just to the edge of the rules on a consistent basis, which just breeds that frustration amongst people. I think that, at one stage, and I don't know where this has got to, but certainly monitoring officers of councils—they have a group that comes together as officers across Wales—were looking at how they could look at cumulative patterns of behaviour so that you didn't always have to satisfy the threshold of, 'That's definitely tipped over into discriminatory bullying', but actually if somebody wasn't operating within the spirit of the code of conduct then that was enough to satisfy them that there should be some kind of action.
Did you have rules to give to chairs then to stamp out certain behaviours? Is that how it worked or—?
Councils have quite detailed—I mean frighteningly detailed—constitutions that set out their rules for how meetings are conducted, and councillors have to go to mandatory training at the start and sign the code of conduct. So, they should be making themselves aware of what those rules are, but, frankly, some councillors perhaps didn't find it as interesting as me to get into the procedures of the constitution and how to pull up others and feel confident enough to say to their colleagues and their opponents from other political parties, 'Actually, you've stepped over the line, I'm going to turn off your mike and you can't carry on.'
Is there an issue as well about the televising of council meetings and openness and accessibility, so that if behaviour of that nature is taking place, the people out there, the voters, are witnessing it and are aware of it and may make judgments on it?
Yes, that's true.
So, it's double-edged in that way. Okay. Mark: status and remuneration.
Thank you. I'm conscious that time is short. What remuneration package for councillors is needed to encourage a broader range of candidates to stand?
I think one thing that we haven't touched on that much is access for disabled people, and something that we'd certainly like to see is an access to elected office fund. At the moment, we have access to elected office funds in England and in Scotland, so I think it's really important that we don't fall behind in Wales in providing that support. I think it's also important that we recognise the breadth of barriers. So, we are conducting some research that's specifically looking at the experiences of trans, disabled people, ethnic minorities and women, and hopefully that will provide some solutions and give us the opportunity to discuss those. But also, I think we can't ignore socioeconomic disadvantage and we need to think about—in whatever changes we might propose as we move forward with electoral reform—whether enacting the socioeconomic duty will provide some insight into how we make those strategic decisions in making Wales a more representative and diverse place.
On remuneration, several people who responded to our consultation who'd either been councillors or stood said that it was frowned upon for councillors to claim their full entitlement of payments and remuneration, and because that data is published they felt that they couldn't claim it. This affects women particularly badly because they might—. For example, they should be able to, I think, claim for childcare costs, but it's frowned upon to claim your full entitlement. So, I think that's almost more important than the pay issue and the full-time issue. I just want to make clear that we at WEN and our members think that childcare should be available at councils and it should be available, also, in the Assembly. It is at the Houses of Parliament and it is in Scotland, and we need to have childcare, because otherwise, people, women will not come forward, I don't think. So, yes, it's really important that people should be able to claim their full entitlement and there should be no stigma around that.
I totally agree with that. I think the issue is around the additional allowances; it's not so much the basic rate of pay. My personal view is that I don't think being a councillor should be a full-time position, because I think that puts off as many people as it would attract. The breadth that you get of people who are retired, employed or work part-time is the kind of breadth that you need in local government, but the additional allowances point that Catherine makes is absolutely right. My own experience was, every year, the South Wales Echo would publish 'Which councillor has claimed the most in terms of allowances?' and just add up whether you claimed for childcare along with your basic allowance and so on, so women would often top those lists and it absolutely put us off claiming for it. So, we would just bring our kids with us and there was no crèche.
The other point—just quickly, sorry—is the maternity issue, because I think it's ridiculous that councillors get fewer maternity rights than the wider population, so that needs to change.
If I may, the socioeconomic barriers also disproportionately affect ethnic minority people, and so addressing the multiple barriers that people face even in considering starting off. Some of them feel, from the feedback that they've given us, that if they were to stand for the council, they'd probably have to consider giving up their jobs, because they're struggling—in accordance with this feedback—to maintain jobs and be counted work-worthy. When they add the council requirements, rules, expectations and the responsibilities of being a councillor, then they're likely to lose their jobs, as ethnic minority people. So, addressing the need to recognise that the socioeconomic challenges that they feel disproportionately affect them based on the areas where they live, or the fact that poverty, sometimes, is a real issue for many. It would deter people from coming forward to serve as councillors if the option is to either become a councillor and give up your job or be put in a place where you feel that it's not enough to feed or sustain a family. So, just bear that in mind.
The impact on means-tested benefits that allowances can have is also something that we need to be mindful of, thinking particularly about the intersections of equality and poverty and women and lone parents.
We've had a view, haven't we, on full-time, which you, personally, aren't in favour of, Cerys. Is anybody of a different view? No?
Yes, I'm afraid we haven't got any time for that. We have to move on to electoral systems and quotas. I think we've dealt with quotas and, indeed, data, but I wonder, Jenny, whether we might deal with the first two questions.
Incumbency is obviously an important factor in enabling you to survive adverse political trends, assuming you've done a good job. Standing against an incumbent, it's much more difficult to displace them if you're a new candidate, and the Local Government Commission obviously pointed out that this disproportionately benefits men—white men. So, what do you think can be done about that, if anything? Because immediately you start to talk about automatic reselection, the balloon goes up.
I quite like the idea that the Fawcett Society have raised in their report, which is a maximum four-year term—
Sorry, four terms, not a four-year term. Four terms. Because I do think it will reduce incumbency. Eighty per cent of councillors in England and Wales at the last county council elections, I believe, were incumbents. So, it puts people off standing. But also, there's a job to do at political parties, because often, in my own experience, there are plenty of white, male, slightly older councillors who will not move and give up their seats and they're in the winnable seats.
I agree. I think it's about seeing—. The reason I don't think that full-time councillors is necessarily a good idea is linked to this, because it's seeing it as a public service that you do for a period of time. And, actually, some councillors find that if they do it for a long time, it's very hard for them to get back into any kind of paid employment. So, I think I would support the four terms as well, and I think that will result in a more dynamic picture in local government.
I don't know quite why anyone would want to—. [Laughter.]
Okay. Well, thank you very much for coming along to give evidence to committee this morning. You will be sent a transcript to check for factual accuracy. Diolch yn fawr.
Committee will break until 10.30 a.m.
Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:20 a 10:31.
The meeting adjourned between 10:20 and 10:31.
Welcome back to committee, then. We have our evidence session 4 in our inquiry into diversity in local government and I'm very pleased to welcome Mike Payne, chair of the organisation committee for Welsh Labour; Gareth Clubb, chief executive for Plaid Cymru; Councillor Bablin Molik, councillor in Cardiff and chair of the Cardiff and Vale local party for the Welsh Liberal Democrats; Roger Pratt, boundary review director for the Welsh Conservatives; and Tom Harrison, regional officer for UKIP Wales. Thanks very much to all of you for coming in today. Just to say at the outset that, with five witnesses, we're going to have to have fairly brief questions and fairly brief answers. Don't feel, witnesses, that you have to say something on every single question.
Let me begin, then, with some questions on culture and perception, and, in your view, whether enough progress has been made by all stakeholders, from Welsh Government to the political parties, in moving the diversity agenda forward in Wales. If your feeling is that more needs to be done, what is it that needs to change? Who would like to begin? Gareth.
Mi wnaf i ddechrau. Yn amlwg, nid oes digon wedi'i wneud achos mae'r canlyniadau yn dangos bod y gyfran o gynghorwyr sydd yn fenywaidd dal yn isel ac yn cynyddu yn araf bach, bach. Mae yna restr eithaf hir, mewn gwirionedd, o bethau a all newid. Rydw i'n siŵr y bydd rhai o'r pethau hynny yn dod mas trwy'r drafodaeth i gyd, ac, i raddau, rydw i eisiau eich cadw chi ar bigau'r drain a ddim datgelu pob dim mewn un datganiad. Ond mae'r sefyllfa yn ddifrifol wael—mae'n ddifrifol iawn. Mae Plaid Cymru yn trin y mater yn ddifrifol. Ac rydym ni wedi ymrwymo i gymryd camau i newid y sefyllfa. Ar hyn o bryd, rydym ni'n canolbwyntio ar wella'r sefyllfa o ran y cydbwysedd rhyw yn etholiadau Senedd Cymru 2021. Felly, dyna ydy'r canolbwynt ar hyn o bryd, ond mi fyddwn ni'n troi ein golygon ar y cynghorau lleol a'r gynrychiolaeth yna maes o law.
I'll start. Clearly, not enough has been done because the results show that the proportion of councillors who are female is still low and is increasing very, very slowly. There is quite a long list, really, of things that can change. I'm sure some of those issues will become apparent in the discussion, and, to some extent, I want to keep you on tenterhooks and not reveal everything in one statement. But the situation is very poor—it's very poor. Plaid Cymru is treating this issue very seriously, and we have committed to take steps to change the situation. At the moment, we're concentrating on improving the situation in terms of gender balance in the 2021 Assembly elections. So, that's where we're concentrating at the moment, but we will be looking at local councils and representation there in due course.
Yes, Chair. I agree—. Sorry, I'm talking to myself here with the headphones still on—I apologise. I agree with Gareth that I think lots of initiatives have taken place, but I think there's lots more that could be done. I think at the last occasion, of the 472 Welsh Labour candidates who were elected to local government, 39 per cent of those were female, which is above the average of the 33 per cent across the whole of Wales, but that is still not good enough, and much more needs to be done. I guess that each council could be looking at, and each party could be looking at, how we assist with flexibility of working for councillors, and also around the better provision of things like childcare that would allow people far more access to that role than is currently the case.
Thank you very much indeed, Chair. Just firstly to say, so that people are aware, that I am the boundary review director for the Conservative Party—UK-wide, not just in Wales—but I was, immediately previous to that, the director of the Welsh Conservative Party, just so that that is on the record.
I agree fully that we need to do a lot more. I come from Monmouthshire, where I'm pleased to say that 40 per cent of the Conservative group on Monmouthshire County Council are women, but we do need to do a lot more. And I think there's a lot that the parties can do, and certainly we are doing. We're setting up an internal party review to find out what the barriers are to women becoming candidates. We've got an outreach team, and I know we're mainly talking about councillors, but the party chairman nationally has set a target of trying to get a 50/50 balance on the list. And I think what is most important is to increase the pool of women candidates—I think that that is where the barrier is. I think the number of women coming forward is not enough, and we need to have a bigger pool.
I think when people have women to choose from, they will choose women, but the pool is too limited. So, I think there's a lot more that can be done in terms of seminars and outreach, and all of that sort of thing, and, certainly, as a party, we take that very seriously.
Thank you, John. Yes, diversity is—. Most of the parties are concentrating on gender, of course, and quite rightly so, and the Liberal Democrats have recognised that there's a need to do more. And in terms of local government, we had 21 out of 62 candidates—34 per cent—who were women. In Cardiff, which is one of our main diverse cities in Wales, 50 per cent of the council candidates in 2017 were actually female. Now, in terms of elected representatives, we didn't get that 50 per cent, so we do recognise that there's, obviously, a desperate need to do more as a party.
But we also, I understand—. I mean, there aren't many of me in council chambers, so whether it's gender or whether it's diversity, in terms of religion or ethnic minorities, there aren't representatives in local government within Cardiff, let alone across Wales. So, there's obviously scope to do more. We, as a party, have recognised that. We can all talk about building the pool and things, but it's actually about focusing on the support that the party can provide to candidates, because the barriers, as Roger quite rightly said, need to be recognised. The barriers are there—financial barriers put people off from different diverse backgrounds from getting involved. There are barriers in terms of support. The amount of work that you have to do on a voluntary basis—it's a demanding task running a campaign, and that can also be a put-off. And understanding those things, addressing those barriers and putting support mechanisms in are the best things that the party can do in terms of trying to get that diversity to work, and our local government becoming more representative. There are many things I'd like to share and why I was able to, but I'll keep that for later.
Yes, we'll go through a number of possible ways of addressing these issues in due course, Bablin, but thanks very much for that. Tom.
Yes, I would agree, really, with what Roger said—that I think it's the pool of candidates that is the main issue. As a party—obviously, we're quite a small party, particularly in Wales—I know that we encourage all people, no matter their gender or their ethnicity, to come forward and stand as a candidate. I think there's sometimes a bit of an added pressure to stand for us because there's a wider perception within, probably, the political sphere, within elected institutions like this, so people are perhaps a little reluctant to stand for us although they support us. And so, we would do everything we can, and have done, to try and encourage everyone. We think it's not necessarily something that can be manufactured as such, but the more information that's out there for what it means to be in local government and in other institutions, the better, and if that's more women, and more people from different backgrounds, then all the better.
Okay. Could I ask about one potential way forward, which is job sharing between candidates in one seat, or job sharing of the cabinet positions within councils? If that was available, and flagged up as a possibility, how might that impact in terms of potential candidates' perceptions of the role and their willingness to step forward? Does anybody think it's got some merit as a possible way of helping to address the problems?
Chair, I think, just as a matter of principle, job share is an issue that should be looked at. I think there are a number of things that would need to be looked at, though, before you could move to that. And I think that's where Welsh Labour are currently looking at the potential legalities around that. If you have two people who are elected to one position, what happens if that one person resigns? What happens if one person switches party, so you have two people now representing separate parties? How do they share out the finances? There are practical issues, I think, that would potentially be the problem to move into job share. But as a point of principle, job sharing is something that the Labour and trade union movement have embraced for a long time. But I think we would need to look at, as I say, the practical issues before we could move towards that.
Chair, I agree entirely—I think there are far too many practical issues. I personally do not think that job sharing is something you could do for elected representatives. The point is what matters is the electorate vote for individual candidates. How on earth they would vote for people on the basis of job sharing, I cannot imagine. So, I think in this field—job sharing in other fields is fine, but I just don't think, for elected representatives, job sharing is practical or possible, and I do note that in the consultation the Assembly undertook when it was doing its consultation—admittedly for the Assembly—really, the only recommendation that the expert panel had made, which the consultation went against, was actually job sharing. Job sharing was something that the majority was against when asked on that particular issue, and I think that speaks volumes. And, personally, I don't think job sharing is a way forward, I'm afraid.
Rydw i'n anghytuno'n llwyr â Roger, a chytuno â Mike. Mae rhannu swydd—. Mae Roger yn disgrifio rhannu rôl cynghorwr fel rhywbeth sydd ddim yn bosib. Wel, wrth gwrs ei fod e'n bosib os ydy'r camau ymarferol wedi'u cymryd i'w alluogi fe i ddigwydd. Mae unrhyw beth yn bosib os ydy'r ewyllys gyda ni.
I completely disagree with Roger, and I agree with Mike. Job sharing—. Roger describes sharing the role of a councillor as something that isn't possible. Well, of course it's possible if the practical steps have been taken in order to allow it to happen. Anything is possible if the will is there.
Okay. If nobody else has any strong views on this, let's just move on, then, to the role of employers in encouraging and supporting employees who wish to stand for election, or indeed those who are already councillors. What issues do you see there in terms of how we might move forward, and, hopefully, have more supportive employers, so that somebody thinking of standing wouldn't be put off by their perception of what their employer's reaction would be, and what the consequences would be for their employment? Any views on how we might—?
Well, I certainly wouldn't have been able to do it if I didn't have the flexibility within my work. So, employers have a big role to play in allowing that flexibility for someone wanting to stand, and supporting that flexibility, basically. So, yes, employers do have a role to play in supporting that agenda.
Chair, again, I think employers are key to allowing individuals both the flexibility and the time off, and also just persuading those individuals that, by taking up the opportunity, they're not going to be overlooked for things like promotion, they're not going to end up with financial loss. I think in days gone by, employers saw the provision of public duty, or time off for public duties, as their civic duty, and would allow their individual employees to come back more rounded, with better skills at dealing with casework, dealing with budgets—getting those types of life skills that they couldn't necessarily get in the workplace. So, there is a big job for us to do with encouraging employers to give their employees the opportunity to stand for public office.
At the moment, everybody is looking at the bottom right-hand corner of the financial sheet. Times are hard, but this is something that I think would benefit them as employers, but also would massively benefit the individuals who could step forward. We're missing so many opportunities for people to have so many skills that we could use, not just in local government, but in all sorts of different spheres. In a previous incarnation, I was a magistrate here in Cardiff. That is just one area, again, where they struggle to find individuals to stand, because they cannot get the time off or the flexibility to be able to undertake those duties. That is something that we really need to work with employers on to overcome.
Rydw i'n cytuno i raddau gyda Mike. Rydych chi wedi clywed yr wythnos diwethaf gan Debbie Wilcox, a oedd, wrth gwrs, yn athrawes ar y pryd, ac mewn rhai swyddi, wrth gwrs, nid yw e'n bosib, neu mae'n anodd iawn, iawn i gael yr hyblygrwydd yna gan y cyflogwr. Ond rydym yma i sôn am amrywiaeth mewn llywodraeth leol, ac, wrth gwrs, un o'r pethau, hyd y gwn i, yn y dystiolaeth rydych chi wedi ei chael hyd yn hyn, nad ydych chi wedi ei drafod, ydy'r problemau sy'n cael eu hwynebu gan y rhai sy'n gweithio yn yr economi gig, ac i'r rhai sy'n gweithio ar gytundebau sero awr, i'r rhai sy'n gweithio yn hyblyg yn y ffordd yna, neu â nifer o swyddi, sut mae'n bosib, i raddau, i fod yn gynghorydd, os oes gyda chi nifer o gyflogwyr, neu os ydych chi ar gytundeb sero awr. Ac mae hynny yn effeithio ar amrywiaeth mewn llywodraeth leol, achos mae canran uchel o bobl sy'n gweithio yn yr economi gig yn amlwg ar gyflog isel.
I agree to some extent with Mike. You heard last week from Debbie Wilcox, who, of course, was a teacher at the time, and in some jobs, of course, it's not possible, or it's very, very difficult to have that flexibility from the employer. But we're here to talk about diversity in local government, and, of course, one of the the issues, as far as I know, in terms of the evidence you've received so far, that you haven't discussed, are the problems that are faced by those working in the gig economy, and for those working on zero-hours contracts, and those working flexibly in that way, or with a number of jobs, how it's possible, to some extent, to be a councillor, if you have a number of employers, or if you're on a zero-hours contract. And that does affect diversity in local government, because a high percentage of people who work in the gig economy clearly are on a low income.
Thank you very much. I fully agree that employers have a key role in this. There are some employers who are very good and really see the benefit of having someone giving public service who is an employee. Obviously, it's easier for the larger employers than the small employers, but there is a benefit. I think what we need to do is, in employers' forums, talk about this issue. And employers who do it very well could actually educate those who are less good at it and show them the benefits that can be received. So, I think employers is a very key area.
I just wanted to add to Gareth's list, which are those who work in small companies, which is a very large proportion of the workforce. Looking at it from the employers' perspective, if you've only got five employees, yes, you can allow them to work flexibly, or you can say, 'Reduce your days' and whatever, but, actually, letting them go for public duties is a bit unrealistic if you have a very small company. I just wondered if you could comment on that. I just think that it's fine for a large organisation to have corporate responsibilities, but for a very small company—?
I think that is one of the areas that we need to get across, but I think the benefits outweigh those negatives. I think if there is flexibility within a council chamber when meetings are held, and a realistic expectation of what somebody is going to be expected to do—. Are they going to need to be at four or five-hour meetings, two or three times a week, or are they going to be able to act far more flexibly than that, so that they can get involved in council chambers?
But, again, one point I wanted to flag, Chair, was this issue around the gig economy. Some people are currently on benefits, and we're finding that people who try to take up any type of voluntary role, especially if they're on universal credit, are being hammered as a result. So, if you have people who currently are on universal credit but wish to stand for public office, then that is going to be a massive hurdle for them to overcome.
Thanks for that, Mike. We'll move on, then. Information for the public on a local and national level on the roles and responsibilities of councillors—is that sufficient at the moment, do you think, or is there a need for improvement there? Bablin.
There isn't sufficient information at all, but it's difficult to actually compile such information given the variation in roles. From my experience, I'm having to go through legal documents as well as social and all elements, and that, to me, when I got elected, was a shock to they system, really. I was going through piles of paperwork that I wasn't thinking I'd be having to do. It was a learning curve for me, and that kind of commitment, the timings as well—those things are not laid out anywhere, really, and they probably need to be. But it is a varied role and whether there could be a pack or information put in terms of what the role would entail would be different within Cardiff—from ward to ward it differs. So, yes, it would be difficult to put it together, but there needs to be something available to show what commitment, what experiences—and mentoring is something that we fully support in that aspect. Anyone who has a potential or interest in becoming a local government councillor, mentoring support is something that we as a party would provide to showcase the kind of experience that they may have if elected. So, that's something that I think needs to be endorsed further.
I agree fully with that. I don't think that there is a general understanding about the roles and responsibilities of councillors. I think if you went out on the streets and asked people what the roles and responsibilities of councillors were, or if you asked them what the council was responsible for, what the Welsh Assembly was responsible for, and what the UK Government was responsible for, I think you wouldn't get a good answer to that. I don't think there is an understanding of roles and responsibilities. I think the parties, as has been said, have a real role here and I think that is why I say it's important to increase the pool of people interested and then invite them to some sort of seminar where they can come and discuss much more about those sorts of roles and responsibilities. It's identifying and talent spotting people who are interested and then imparting the information to them and having discussions with them. And I agree entirely about mentoring. I think mentoring is a very important part of that.
You're talking about things that can be done to improve the numbers of women and other diverse candidates. Do you think some sort of training within parties for those who select would help? You talk as well about the increase in the pool of candidates. Do you think it's important to have more diversity in the number of people who get selected or elected, because you would approach the problem in two different ways, depending on what outcome you wanted?
I think training is absolutely vital and that is a role that the parties can play in training people, both before they're elected—
Selectors, now, you're talking about, not the candidates themselves—the people doing the selecting, yes?
The selection committees, yes, absolutely. I agree with that. Although I personally don't think that that is as big a problem as the problem of finding enough people coming forward of diverse backgrounds so that they can have a genuine choice. I think that is the real problem, not the selection committees. I've been involved in running so many selection committees throughout the United Kingdom where it isn't true, and I actually find that people will select on the basis of the person's ability usually.
I think there's much less bias than people think. I'll just give you an example, which is not from Wales, but I think it is an interesting example. I was responsible for boundaries and there were a number of new constituencies that came into effect in 2010, and one of those constituencies was Witham in Essex. And the selection committee were quite clear—they were going to choose their normal Essex man with the usual views from Essex. I did the whole selection process and through it. And because of the fact that Priti Patel actually wowed them and performed very well, they actually, at the end of the day, chose Priti Patel over James Brokenshire, who's in the Cabinet, a Member for the European Parliament, and Charlie Elphicke, who's also a Member of Parliament. So, they chose Priti Patel over them, simply because she performed very well and they liked what she said. And I think it's getting that pool of candidates that is so important.
Just coming back on that, again, the pool of candidates is a key thing. But I think we're in quite a unique position with UKIP, that our selection is—there aren't selection committees as such. And, actually, all members that are in good standing and have processed through vetting procedures are elected from their local associations entirely. So, again, it's the pool of people coming forward rather than actually any process that we as a party have in place that's a problem.
Chair, I think—. If I could just say that there is much more that we could do pre-selection or election to those positions with regard to making people aware of or understanding the roles—the time expectations that councillors have to give, the complexity of the issues—and lots of councillors, before they stand, have not really given any thought to the amounts or the types of casework they're going to need to deal with. And that is a bit of a shock when you get there. And I've done that; I was a councillor for eight years. Some of the cases you deal with are completely off the scale, and you have to deal with some real human tragedy, which lots of people find it difficult to deal with.
What we've tried to do in Welsh Labour through our review of our local campaign forums—because it's our local campaign forums that actually interview and then select people to go onto panels, and then local wards would decide who those candidates are going to be from that panel of candidates. So, the training is prior to them actually applying to go onto the panel. So, I think you're right, you have to come at this from the point of view of what is the outcome you're going to try and get rather than, 'Oh, aren't we good, we've got a selection panel of 50/50, but we're only going to appoint men.' So, there has to be an issue around the changing of the culture, training, what are we actually trying to achieve here, and that is that we want a whole range of councillors that are going to truly reflect society outside and the people we purport to represent. So, we're undertaking a review of the local campaign forums as we speak—the Welsh executive are looking at the role of those local campaign forums—and we're out to consultation with our members on that.
But we've appointed a community organiser that will look to encourage ordinary members of the public to get involved, not just with the Labour Party, but in politics in general, and also we promote the positive action. And we've got a fairly good record inside Welsh Labour of having all-women shortlists to give that boost to get us to where we want to be. And I think you have to do that to get us from point A to point B. Once you get to that, then that's a different story, but, at this moment in time, we are nowhere near point B.
I just wanted to reflect the evidence we heard in the previous session from Uzo Iwobi, who stood as a candidate in Swansea and suffered overt racism. And, really, it's what are parties doing to both—. I mean, we can't change society overnight, but this is obviously a very significant issue, and both within our parties as well as within the community at large. So, I wondered if you could just—. It's all very well to say we have these campaign forums, but the reality is quite challenging.
I think that it's really one of the things that puts people off—the sort of abusive behaviour that happens to candidates, which I think is disgraceful. And I think—I have to say that I think that social media is something that is really to blame and there needs to be a much better, much stronger, code of conduct as to what is acceptable on social media. From the Conservative Party's point of view, we obviously monitor what people say on social media, and we take very strong action against anybody who would have any sort of abusive behaviour on there. But I do think that we have got to respect each other's different points of view and respect that people, from whichever party, are actually in it because they want to serve the public, and they want to serve and not have—. I fear, within some of things that are happening at the moment, but also more generally, it has got much worse over the last few years in the abusive behaviour, and I think social media is quite a lot to blame, that people will go on social media. I think we have to have a strong code of conduct and I also think that we need to make sure that people are much more respectful of each other and each other's points of view. We've got different points of view, clearly, but the end game is to try and serve the public to the best of people's ability and we've got to reflect that. I don't think that happens at the moment and I do think that is something that really puts people off.
Okay, we need to move on, but, Gareth, anything short you'd like to add?
Jest, o fewn y blaid, nid ydym ni'n derbyn unrhyw sylwadau hiliol neu sarhaus; mae'n gwbl yn erbyn y rheolau a bydd y pwyllgor disgyblu yn ymdrin â'r mater yn ddifrifol. Mae'r cwestiwn am ymddygiad yn y gymdeithas yn ehangach yn broblem i gymdeithas.
Just, within the party, we don't accept any racist comments or offensive comments; they're completely against the rules and the disciplinary committee will treat those very seriously. The question about behaviour in the wider society is a problem for society.
Can I just say, Chair, I think, again, a lot of these examples are where people come just up against a line, and I'm not talking just about racism here, but about sexist bullying as well? People come just up against a line, and we've got volunteers running complaints procedures. They don't fully understand how patterns of behaviour can impact on things like this. I have to say to you, from UKIP, you've got Stephen Yaxley-Lennon as an adviser to your party now, who overtly bullies Muslims on social media. How on earth can you claim that your party is open to a diverse range of candidates when you've got a racist bully like that in your midst?
Well, I'd say that he's—. Well, he's not an adviser to the party. The party national executive committee have decided to put any vote on that individual back until March, and he is taking on, in a personal—
Say it again, sorry.
That's nothing to do with the party, unfortunately. Our governing body have made a decision, and he is not an adviser to our party, so that's well outside of our control.
So, what is he then? Sorry, Chair, I know it's taking up time, but I do think this is a pertinent issue in terms of social media and bullying.
He's not a member of UKIP. He may be a supporter of our party. However, as far as our party is concerned, he has nothing to do with us, so—. That's all I can say, really. Our party leader may decide to take on people to advise him in a personal capacity. However, I haven't seen any evidence of—. I'm not here to defend the individual you mentioned, but I see no evidence of him bullying individuals, either on social media or elsewhere.
Thank you, Chair. We've already touched on things like the support mechanisms needed and mentoring schemes. Just thinking about some of the impacts and the effectiveness of some of these schemes, because we'd heard from the WLGA at the last evidence sessions about the diversity and democracy scheme, which had 51 mentees, and only 16 stood and four elected, and the last session we had was with Chwarae Teg, and the leadership scheme and the Women's Equality Network—. I'm just wondering about what your experiences as parties are with those schemes, and if you think they're effective.
You've just taken my thunder with Chwarae Teg, so I'll leave that there. The Chwarae Teg leadership scheme is excellent. The Labour Party have introduced a future leadership scheme where candidates can actually go through the training and the programmes that we've outlined that people need to have that understanding of the role. But there are a whole range of bursaries now available to working people that wish to stand for public office, whether that be as a member of the Labour Party or a member of an affiliated trade union. We encourage individuals to stand for office and to undertake the training that they will actually find extremely beneficial when they get to apply to go through those selection processes. It gives them the skills that they need to be able to be successful in an election, and I think Leanne's point was that it's all very well and good giving people an opportunity to get onto a selection panel, but are we really giving them the opportunity to win those elections and to be able to stand in winnable seats? And that, I think, is where our focus has been more latterly, in recent years, and that is the way that I think that we should be moving forward. So, mentoring, support, giving people the information they need and the support to be able to become candidates in winnable seats.
Rydw i’n gwybod bod aelodau o Blaid Cymru wedi bod ar y cynllun amrywiaeth mewn democratiaeth a’u bod nhw wedi’i werthfawrogi’n fawr ac wedi ffeindio’r cymorth yn werthfawr iawn. Ond rydw i’n meddwl, yn y bôn, bod yn rhaid cael yr atebion gan y bobl na wnaeth sefyll yn yr etholiadau yn 2017, a bod y rhaglen yna’n eu holi nhw am eu rhesymau am beidio â sefyll.
I know that Plaid Cymru members have been on the diversity in democracy scheme and that they’ve appreciated it greatly and found the support very valuable. But, I think, essentially, there’s a need for answers from those people who didn’t stand for election in 2017, and that the programme should ask them for their reasons for not standing.
Yes, thank you. I think these sorts of schemes can be effective and I think internal party schemes can be effective. I think one of the most effective things that the Conservative Party has done is the launch of Women2Win, which was actually launched by the current Prime Minister before she became Prime Minister and she was very involved in it, and, to this day, takes a very close interest in Women2Win. And that has helped numerous women in terms of the selection procedure and everything else and has helped people to get elected. Indeed, in Wales, we launched Women2Win last year. So, I think that is an effective thing. But I think the other thing is to actually talent spot and get party members talent spotting out there, not only within the parties, but in voluntary organisations and in different groups like the Chamber of Commerce, charities, actually talent spotting within those groups to find people and then offering them opportunities through Women2Win and seminars and so on.
I actually got involved in politics through a programme that Women Making a Difference ran a few years ago, Engendering Change—some people may be aware of that programme. That programme used to bring out women from all different backgrounds, and, to some extent, the current programmes, I feel, lack that. I had no intention of going into politics at that point and here I am, sitting in front of you, as a councillor. So, they can be very effective, but it's important that they reach out to everyone and to people of all diverse backgrounds and all political followings too. So, I will stress that here.
The other thing, as Roger pointed out, is talent spotting, and I do believe that that needs to be done more, and, where we see talent, to provide that support and the mechanism to get them selected and elected. And that's what our party has firmly believed. We didn't want to do things that would not be sustainable. I've never been a supporter of all-women shortlists, I'll tell you here, because I would hate to be on a list because I'm a woman and not because of what I have to offer. So, it's something that I've firmly believed and, even when I was doing the Women Making a Difference programmes and things, I discussed that quite openly. I don't want to be on a list because I'm a BME or a Muslim; I want to be there because I've got the right skill set and the right things to offer. So, that's what I believe. But it's important that, where we do see talent, we put the mechanisms and support in place; we spot talents. I recently ran, within Cardiff, a women in democracy day to encourage more women and make them understand the difference it makes to have that gender equality. The Welsh Assembly did almost meet that gender equality and it changed the whole culture within the Welsh Assembly Chamber, having that, and it needs to be appreciated. Bringing different diversity into decision-making roles is something that we should be promoting and engaging with people more on. So, it's something that, as a party, we want to drive forward, but with the right mechanism and with mechanisms that can be sustainable going forward, so—.
Just to say that I note you oppose all-women shortlists, but if we hadn't have had a twinning system within the Labour Party at the beginning of the Assembly, we wouldn't have had that level of diversity; this thing didn't happen by magic. And it was controversial, but it delivered the goods, and I think that what Chwarae Teg and others would argue is that without these sorts of systems, we can wait until 2074, or whatever, to have the proper diversity.
I don't believe that. I'll tell you that honestly, because I think it is a need to, one, make women realise the importance that they would be contributing by taking on those roles, and then supporting them through. Welsh Liberal Democrats have had women leaders—they were the first party to have a Welsh female leader, and they still do in Jane Dodds, and we haven't done that by any women shortlists or anything, but by recognising and supporting talent. That's something that I firmly believe in.
Very briefly, can I fully support that? I think that's excellent what Bablin said from her point of view—that she wants to get there on merit, and I think that is what people do believe. Certainly, as a party, we would be against all-women shortlists. If there's an all-women shortlist because the three best candidates for the final shortlist are all women, that's fine, and that's often happened in the party, but it must be on the basis of merit, and it demeans women, in my view, to think that they're not there on their total ability. There are women out there who will get there because of their ability, and there are many examples—I won't go through the two Prime Ministers—but there are many, many examples, and I think it is absolutely right that people get there on their ability.
I would echo everything that's been said, but, yes, it should be really, sort of, having—.
No, carry on.
I was going to say I fundamentally disagree with that. Obviously, there are too many really talented female members of political parties who have not had the opportunity to stand for public office because of the culture inside selection processes. And if it had not been for the adoption of all-women shortlists within the Labour Party, we would not have as many role models for younger women to aspire to become, and then we would not have, as Jenny's just pointed out, that 50/50 split within the Assembly group here, and we would not see so many young female members coming forward to stand for public office. We've still got a long way to go, but if we had not taken that positive action, then we'd be nowhere near the space we're in at the moment.
Thank you very much indeed. Of course, positive action is about getting the right people to the right place at the right time, as opposed to positive discrimination, which is a numbers game. But on status and remuneration, the WLGA told us that were the link that they work to being kept to by the independent remuneration panel for Wales, the basic councillor salary would now be about £16,000, but thanks to public and political pressure, it's only about £13,600 currently. What do you believe is needed in a remuneration package for councillors if we're going to enable a broader group of individuals to stand?
Mae'r arian sydd ar gael—y cyflog—yn rhwystr i bobl sefyll, nid oes dwywaith am hynny. Mae'n rhwystr i amrywiaeth o bobl. Mae'n golygu bod y ganran o gynghorwyr sydd gyda ni, fel mae tystiolaeth y WLGA wedi ei ddangos yn glir, yn 47 y cant—o gynghorwyr presennol dros eu trigain. Wel, nid yw hynny'n dderbyniol, ond, wrth gwrs, mae'n adlewyrchiad o'r ffaith bod dim digon o arian ar gael i'r cynghorwyr, i'r rhai a fyddai'n dymuno gwneud y gwaith, ond heb y gallu i gydlynu gyda naill ai eu gwaith nhw neu gyda gofal am bobl eraill.
Un posibiliad, jest i daflu rhywbeth i'r pair, ydy haneru nifer y cynghorwyr a dyblu eu cyflog. Mi fyddai hynny yn codi'r cyflog i dipyn bach uwchben y cyflog cyfartalog yng Nghymru. Rydw i'n meddwl os ydym ni eisiau newid radical, mae'n rhaid inni ystyried mesurau radical. Ac rydw i'n gwybod mi fyddai nifer mawr o gynghorwyr yma yng Nghymru ddim yn bles gyda'r syniad o haneru eu nifer, ond os ydym ni wir am gyrraedd y nod, mae'n rhaid inni ystyried pethau sydd yn mynd i drawsnewid y sefyllfa.
The money available in terms of salary is a barrier to people to stand, there's no doubt about that. It's a barrier for a variety of people. It means that the percentage of councillors that we have, as evidence from the WLGA has shown clearly—47 per cent of current councillors are over 60 years of age. That's not acceptable, but it's also a reflection that there's not enough money available for the councillors, for those who would wish to do the work, but cannot co-ordinate it with their work or with caring for other people.
One possibility, just to throw something into the mix, is to halve the number of councillors and double the amount of salary. That would increase the salary to a little bit more than the average pay in Wales. I think if we want a radical change, we need to consider radical measures. I know that a large number of councillors here in Wales would not be pleased with the idea of halving their number, but if we really want to reach this goal, we have to consider things that are going to transform the situation.
Personally, Chair, in an age of austerity, I think there needs to be a balance between being able to get the support of constituents to support people getting more money whilst they're seeing services cut around them, and balancing that with the need for the salary to be able to be sufficient to attract people to the role. So, that's where the local renumeration boards come in. That should be a consideration for them locally. I think it's really difficult always to get into the argument about how much should you pay somebody. Somebody will always find an argument not to do so, and somebody, because of a different perspective, will find an explanation to give them more. But what we don't want to do is to see this as a nice little earner that will take someone up to retirement age. We need to have a salary level that will attract people into the role and not be a barrier to them being able to stand for public office.
And that is a balance, I think, that can only be done at a local level. I'm not in a position here today to say, 'Welsh Labour have come to a definitive position on whether we should cut the number of councillors and pay others more, or whether we should increase the level.' That is a balance. And, at this moment in time, in the same way as Assembly Members, when they have the discussion about whether or not they should receive more money—members of the public have a very robust view on that, and that is something that can only be done by discussion at a local level.
Yes, I think, actually, I agree on that. It is a balance and it's a matter for the remuneration committee. Although, it clearly is a barrier—the salary is a barrier in some cases. One of the reasons I fear that we have not necessarily so many retired people, but a lot of retired members, is, actually, that they quite like that extra salary to boost their pension, and, sometimes, it is the salary that gets them to stand again, when, possibly, it would be better if they retired. So, I think it works two ways, but I think it is something that the remuneration committee has to look at.
So, what then is the role of political parties to ensure that people aren't continuing to stand when, actually, they don't have the energy anymore?
That is absolutely right, and we have now introduced a more robust selection procedure to ensure that sitting councillors don't automatically get readopted, but they do have to go through a process. And, often, the fact that they've been there for a number of years is one of the things that they think—they would actually like some new blood. Fortunately, in a number of cases, they will put forward a woman in that case. So, I think that is right, and that is why, certainly, we have very robust procedures in place to ensure that sitting councillors do have to go through a reselection process.
There has been a suggestion by the Fawcett Society that there might be a limit on the number of terms that councillors can serve. Is there any support for that?
I think that's a bit artificial, personally. I really do. The thing to do is to bring good candidates forward.
Again, we've not got a definitive position on that, apart from the fact—I think my concern would be that when you stand in a local council, it takes you a fair while to get used to not just your surroundings, but the role and the complexity of what's going on, to get your head around the finances. To limit to two terms in an artificial way, in my view, would be wrong. You will lose a lot of expertise that has been built up over a period of time.
I think Jenny's point is that you should be looking at the effectiveness of that councillor as they get to that position: do they still have the hunger to undertake the role, are they able to undertake that role? That is where the selection processes—and when people are looking to stand again, those are the conversations that have to be had. And, sometimes, they're difficult conversations, but there should be a churn of councillors, but that should be a natural churn, not an artificial one of, 'You can only stand for two terms of office.'
But if parties don't bite the bullet on this one, we're not going to get the level of change that is recognised, I think by all parties, that—you know, to get the diversity that we need to get—
My concern with that would be: what happens if you introduce this and then you don't have sufficient individuals coming forward? Do you then say, 'Well, I'm going to bring in exceptions to that?' I don't have a major problem with us looking—and this is a personal view—at capping the number of terms that people can stand, but I think that has to be looked at in a far more detailed way than just a conversation here today, because I do believe that it takes you a certain amount of time to be able to build the expertise to make you a really effective councillor who can challenge and scrutinise officers who are paid officials who know the details that are going on daily. To then say, just as you've got to the point where you are really effective, 'Well, you've had your two terms, mate, out through the door', and start with a brand-new one—. I can see the need for the churn, I can see the need for bringing on new people, I have no problem with any of that, but I just think, again, we need to look at the practicalities.
Mae rhai o'n cynghorwyr gorau ni yn rhai sydd wedi bod yno am nifer o dymhorau.
Some of our best councillors are those who have been there for a number of terms.
Thank you very much. I'd just like to address a point that you made about people being there on merit earlier on, because I just can tell you from a personal perspective that I would not be here now had I not applied for a space that was reserved for a woman only, because I would probably have not challenged similar men at that point in my career. So, I just wanted to put on record that I completely disagree with everything you've said on that.
Back to bullying and discrimination and harassment, there's a lot of anti-politician feeling out there now, and we can perhaps have a discussion about why we have that, but it is the case that attitudes towards public officials—they seem to have gone down in most people's estimations. Do you think that that is a barrier to increased diversity? And do you think enough is being done by political parties to stamp out bullying and discrimination, particularly when it happens online in full view of everyone?
Roger addressed the possibility of a code of practice earlier as one solution to this, but yes—.
Again, before we could sign up to a code of practice, we'd need to look at the detail of that, but I completely agree that bullying and harassment of any kind are not acceptable and that that should be dealt with as it's flagged. All political parties—I know we've undergone a fairly substantial review of our own processes, but any individual cases of bullying and harassment need to be dealt with.
I think that it's also a way to deal with that barrier to make people aware that that is a possibility, and it's not just elected representatives. Trade union officials get that too on occasions, and, sometimes, it's a bit of a shock when you're getting the kind of bile that is thrown at you for having the audacity to have a view on something. I think we should have a culture where people are able to disagree robustly but without making that personal and then getting into the depths of the type of terrible insult throwing that is currently there. That is unacceptable, and, personally, I think that anybody who undertakes that type of role should be dealt with robustly through a robust disciplinary process.
We are hearing a lot that what's happening is unacceptable and that something must be done and that there should be a code, but we're not getting a lot of detail on what that code should look like, what the elements—what the definitions of 'bullying' should be, how we get to grapple with some of the really tricky stuff where people, as I said earlier, go just up to a line. So, do you have anything you can share with us on that front at all?
Well, all I can tell you as the chair of the organisation committee, the Welsh exec, is we'd be keen to look at a code. But we'd need to look at the detail of that code. As you say, there would need to be detailed discussion around what the definitions are before we could sign up to anything like that, and that would be the subject of formal consultation with all of the constituent parts of the Welsh Labour family as well. I just think that we have a culture at the moment where people go online and they think that they can say anything that they like, because they're online, when the test should be: would you actually say that to somebody in the same room? More often than not, the answer is 'no'. And if the answer is 'no', you shouldn't be making that comment online. So—
Could I just throw in another difficulty here, if you don't mind? Sometimes, we're talking about exchanges between members of different political parties. Now, there's going to be robust political discussion, but how do you decide who's crossed the line? Does there need to be some sort of independent arbitrator, and what does that look like? Is it the ombudsman? Is it something else?
I'm not in a position to be able to answer that. I could give you a personal view, but I'm not here in a personal capacity today. I think it is something that we would like to look at. It's something that we abhor. So, I think you should have reverse political debate amongst colleagues from different parties, but there is a line that should not be crossed over, and when you start getting into personal insults, then I think that line has been crossed. But people will have different views on where that line is, sadly.
Yn amlwg, mae yna broblemau i gymdeithas yn ehangach. Mae Mike wedi cyfeirio at rai o’r rheini. Mae yna broblem yn y siambrau cyngor hefyd. Mae gwaith ymchwil y Gymdeithas Fawcett wedi datgelu bod traean o gynghorwyr benywaidd wedi dioddef sylwadau rhywiaethol sarhaus pan fyddant yn gwneud eu gwaith y tu mewn neu ar gyrion siambr y cyngor, a 10 y cant wedi dioddef aflonyddu rhywiol gan eu cyd-gynghorwyr. Wel, mae hynny’n rhywbeth sydd o fewn gallu llywodraeth leol i ddelio ag e. Mae o fewn gallu’r pleidiau i ddelio ag e. A dyna ddylai fod ffocws y pleidiau a llywodraeth leol. Dylai fod yn gwbl, gwbl annerbyniol. Ac rydw i'n meddwl y dylem gael rhyw fath o system whistleblowing lot yn gryfach, i sicrhau bod sylwadau sarhaus ac aflonyddu rhywiol yn cael eu trin yn ddifrifol iawn. Ac rydym ni’n gwybod bod yr heddlu’n defnyddio’r math yma o gyfundrefn, lle mae rhywun sydd wedi bod yn dioddef o aflonyddu rhywiol yn rhoi gwybod iddyn nhw heb eisiau gwneud cwyn swyddogol. Ac wedyn, os oes yna batrwm yn datblygu, mae’r heddlu wedyn yn gallu cydlynu’r dystiolaeth sydd wedi dod gerbron. Ac rydw i'n meddwl y byddai rhywbeth tebyg, os nad yw e’n bodoli eisoes, yn y cynghorau lleol o fudd mawr, i drio dileu’r arfer yna—ac hyd y gwn i, mae’n gyffredin yn siambrau’r cynghorau.
Evidently, there are problems for society in the wider context, and Mike has referred to some of them. There is a problem in council chambers also. The Fawcett Society revealed that a third of female councillors had suffered offensive sexist comments in undertaking their work within the council chamber, and 10 per cent have suffered sexual harassment from fellow councillors. Now, that is something that is within local government's ability to deal with. It's within the parties' ability to deal with it. And that should be the focus of parties and local government. It should be completely unacceptable. And I think that we should have some kind of whistleblowing system that is much more robust, to ensure that these offensive comments and sexual harassment cases are treated very seriously. And we know that the police use this kind of regime, where someone who has suffered from sexual harassment can report it without it being made an official complaint. And then, if a pattern emerges, the police can co-ordinate the evidence that has come to hand. So, I think that something similar, unless it already exists, in local councils would be of great benefit, in order to try and eradicate that practice—and as far as I can see, it's very common in council chambers.
Yes. I've seen it in the council chambers—attitudes of certain councillors and things sometimes can be intimidating, and I've experienced that myself.
It's important that—. I do think that parties have a role to play, and certain parties, well, endorse that—we know about boys' gangs, boys' groups and things, and being a female quite often means that it's difficult to be part of that culture. So, it's important that all parties recognise those challenges that people face and do address them. It's not going up to the level of bullying, even—it's the intimidating culture that we've set ourselves now that needs to be changed, and all parties should be pushing to change that, I think, and all parties have a role to play in that.
I think I made my position clear earlier.
I think it just boils down to, as you said earlier, the fact that it's mutual respect, really, in political debate, and it's very difficult to police things online, but, as very pertinent political issues have arisen in the last couple of years, it has obviously inflamed opinion. Policing that would be very difficult, but where there is abuse, certainly, I know our party have strict procedures in place with which to deal with our own members and supporters, albeit very rare. And then, where something is serious and its, again, against some of our members, or our candidates, or elected members, then it's a matter, potentially, for the police and going on there. But, actually, mutual respect, I think, in political debate should always be encouraged.
Okay. I think we need to move on, unless anybody's got anything of burning importance. I know there's one further question that we need to fit in. On this, is it, Mark?
It's just the one question we missed out off the paper, which I thought was important to ask, if that's okay.
We know the WLGA has identified that councillors are paid on a basis of three days a week, but most councillors work a lot more than that. Many work full time, and it's a very different role to that in the days when people used to do a bit of community volunteering to be a councillor, and the big change is the pressure from the public—it's demand-led. So, yes, there are committee meetings and meetings in full chamber that you can schedule, but on the unscheduled bit, unless you are one of the too many unelected incumbents who stand in safe wards and don't have opponents, then you depend on your reputation for servicing and supporting people in your community. In that context, should we be reassessing the role of councillors to formally recognise this as a full-time role? If so, should there be fewer councillors, or should we simply be looking at the pressures of the job in the context of the hours worked as a separate matter?
I'm afraid we'll have to have brief responses on this. Our time has elapsed.
Rydych chi wedi clywed un syniad gen i o ran haneru nifer y cynghorwyr, dyblu eu cyflog, a byddai hynny, wrth gwrs, yn golygu bod y rôl yn llawn amser.
You have heard one idea that I have in terms of halving the number of councillors and doubling their salary. That, of course, would mean that the role is full-time.
Okay. Anybody else? Anybody in support of full-time councillors with a full-time salary, and reducing the number?
I think the problem is that they often are full-time—certainly if you talk to my wife, who's a councillor from Monmouthshire. She would say that it's full time. She's fortunately a chairman of a committee as well as getting the councillor salary. But she certainly feels it's full time, particularly with the constituency work she has to do, as she represents the area where all the work on the Heads of the Valleys is going on, and there's an awful lot of work connected with that with constituents. I think it is a balance we've got to strike, as we said earlier.
Thank you, Chair. However good the pool of talent is, or however wide we can find that, there's always going to be somebody who's going to lose out in a selection or lose out in an election. I'm just concerned that, we go to such lengths to find these great people who are going to stand for this election, and then perhaps, sadly, they lose just because of where they are geographically, or that they're not in a particularly safe seat for that party. Then we find that they're lost to lots of our parties—they have to wait another four years or five years before they have another opportunity to be elected again. Do you think that political parties are doing enough to support or nurture that talent that has been found for the next opportunity for them? And what could be done? I've stunned you all to silence on that one.
I think there is a lot more that we could do. I've seen councillors who have been councillors for quite a long time who sadly have either had to stand down, because of ill health, or they've lost elections. That is a massive, massive hit. It's like somebody having to retire after 30 or 40 years of doing a role, and it impacts on their mental health and their well-being. We should be doing more to support people who lose at election time, but I think it's just the nature of democracy. You have no right to be an elected representative—if you lose, you lose, sadly, and I've been on the end of that on one occasion myself. It's not nice, but that's what happens. You stand for election, you have to be prepared to win and to lose. But we could be doing more to assist individuals who find themselves, in effect, out of a job after an election.
Do you think that first-time candidates, who go through that, really understand what it could mean for them? They've perhaps joined the party, you've identified the talent, you've got them on a programme, they've had the mentoring programme, and they've decided that they want to be a councillor, so they go through it—.
I don't think anything can actually prepare somebody for losing an election. When I was 28 years of age and stood for council, I think I thought I was going to be there forever, because I was so good at what I did, there was no way that anybody was ever going to deselect me, but, sadly, that wasn't the case. That's a lesson you have to learn, but I think we do need to prepare candidates for that, and we do need to support them if that happens, because it is the nature of the job.
Rydw i'n gwybod ein bod ni'n brin o amser, ond roeddwn i jest eisiau cyfle i roi cwpl o bethau eraill—syniadau. Rydw i'n gwybod bod darpariaeth gofal plant yn broblem: er bod yna lwfans ar gael, mae'r lwfans yna'n mynd yn erbyn enw'r sawl sy'n hawlio'r lwfans. Fe ddylai hwnnw gael ei adrodd ar lefel y cynghorau cyfan a dim ar lefel yr unigolyn, achos mae hynny'n rhwystr.
Hefyd, rydw i wedi darllen yn nhystiolaeth y Gymdeithas Diwygio Etholiadol eu bod nhw'n argymell trothwy o 45 y cant o ymgeiswyr benywaidd. Fe fyddwn i'n mynd ymhellach a dweud bod rhaid inni gael isafswm o 50 y cant o ymgeiswyr benywaidd gerbron, a chyda swyddogion enwebu yn atebol i hynny. Rydym ni bron â chael 30 y cant erbyn hyn. Yn yr etholiad nesaf, mi fyddai’n bosib sicrhau 40 y cant, ac yn yr etholiad ar ôl hynny, sef o fewn 10 mlynedd, 50 y cant. Mae'r amser am ffwdanu â'r sefyllfa yma wedi dod i ben.
Rydw i hefyd wedi darllen yn nhystiolaeth Cymdeithas Llywodraeth Leol Cymru eu bod nhw'n credu y byddai'n beth llesol cael cytundeb rhwng y pleidiau i ddim ond cael menywod i sefyll mewn isetholiadau rhwng yr etholiadau. Fe fyddem ni'n agored i hynny. Wrth gwrs, y pwyllgor gwaith a fydd yn gwneud y penderfyniad, ac mae hynny’n rhywbeth, felly, inni ei drafod.
I know we're short on time, but I just wanted to say a few more things—to give a few more ideas. I know that the provision of childcare is a problem: despite the fact that there is an allowance available, that allowance goes against the person claiming it. That should be reported at council level and not at individual level, because that is a barrier.
Also, I have read in the evidence from the Electoral Reform Society that they recommend a threshold of 45 per cent of women candidates. I think we should go further and have a minimum of 50 per cent female candidates, and with nominating officers accountable for that. We have almost 30 per cent now. At the next election, it would be possible to ensure that we have 40 per cent, and at the election after that, within 10 years, 50 per cent. The time for fussing about this situation has come to an end.
I've also read in the evidence of the WLGA that they believe that it would be of benefit to get an agreement between parties to get only women to stand in by-elections between the elections. We would be open to that. Obviously, it would be a decision for the executive committee, and that is something to be discussed.
Okay. Well, thank you all very much for coming along to give evidence to the committee today. You will be sent a transcript to check for factual accuracy. Diolch yn fawr.
Welcome to you all to our further evidence session on our inquiry into diversity in local government. We'll now hear evidence from Steve Davis, service manager for the Wales principal youth officers’ group; Julia Griffiths, joint acting chief executive for Youth Cymru; Chizi Phiri, women's officer for NUS Wales; and Kathryn Allen, vice-president of the Council for Wales of Voluntary Youth Service. Welcome to you all.
Perhaps I might begin by asking an initial few questions and, first of all, whether enough progress been made by all stakeholders, from the Welsh Government to political parties, on moving the diversity agenda forward in Wales, and if not—which I think most of us would think is the case—what needs to change? Who would like to begin? Julia.
I'll just say a little bit. You asked if there was enough progress. I think some progress, or any progress, is great, but I think to say 'enough progress' might mean that we just sit back and don't do what we need to do. I think there are lots of areas of good practice, especially from a youth perspective, of young people being involved in decision-making processes and being enabled to access those decision-making structures. But I do think there's a lot of work that could be done to make sure that that happens in a more pan-structured way, where we've got strength and participation frameworks that young people can access to enable their engagement within all parts of Wales. So, yes, there has been some progress, but not enough, arguably.
I would tend to agree with that analysis. I've got very little to add to it, actually.
I personally don't think that there has been enough that's been done. Currently, only 28 per cent of the councillors in Wales are women and two councils in Wales have absolutely no women in their cabinet. And there's actually been no accurate measure of other diversity, and I currently don't see anything that's been put in place to measure how we quantify the diversity in councillors.
Just to add to that, the research from the Electoral Reform Society is highlighting that, but, actually, as a visible indicator of inequity, when you look at all of the local authority websites, there's information provided about the councillors, so there is quite a visible indicator there of some of those councils where you can see a predominantly male, white—. Just thinking from people's perspective about actually looking into the local authorities.
Okay. So, there's a lot of progress that needs to be made. To what extent do you think the role of employers and education institutions in encouraging and supporting flexible working for those who wish to stand for election as a councillor is relevant to this?
I think one of the main barriers younger voters face is that the age of voting is 18, so young people aren't really engaged with something that they don't get to participate in until they become 18. And at 18, particularly like me, from a rural area, but this is across the board, young people tend to be looking towards their horizons—what their is future and investing in that. Many young people will move away to university at that point for a number of years, will relocate, will be starting new careers—but if they're in employment, they'll be at the bottom of the company hierarchy or whatever it is, or if in a rural area, like Pembrokeshire where I'm from, it'll be dominated by small and medium-sized enterprises, so young people are not really in a position, on many occasions, to engage. There are more barriers to engagement to do with their ability to approach an employer, have that conversation, or they're outside of the area where they would be resident because their attending university—those kind of things. So, there are additional barriers, until they get towards their mid-20s, for young people to see politics as a something that they have a stake in. Many young people are interested, many young people are interested in their agendas, but when we do consultations with young people at a local level, what they want to know is, 'Am I going to be heard? Is my voice going to be taken seriously or is this going to be a tokenistic exercise?' So, I think we've got to engage with young people in a way that is meaningful to them and in a way they think will be meaningful. I think I've said enough, probably, on that question.
I agree. I think you mentioned education and I think, from what young people are telling us at Youth Cymru, they would welcome education around how democracy works, how decisions are made and at what level they're made. And I think there's a huge gap in terms of educating young people about how they can become involved and also enabling them to become involved. And I think, to say that employers and education aren't releasing, if that's the question—they aren't letting young people access or have time to stand for local election—that's kind of putting the cart before the horse. I think there's a lot of work to be done before that even becomes a reality for some young people.
They don't look at local decision makers or any decision-making bodies and see themselves represented generally. So we don't, as we've said over here, see women necessarily at local council level and we don't see BME, we don't see disabled people. And we had one young person tell us, or actually ask, 'Can a disabled person be a politician?', because they're not seeing themselves represented, which I think speaks volumes about how we are enabling young people up to the age of 25 to have access to those bodies and to be part of those bodies, and to feel that they're being represented and that their ideas and their opinions are being represented.
What about voting for 16 and 17-year-olds then? What do you think would be the likely impact of that in terms of getting young people more engaged with politics and producing more young people as candidates for local elections?
I think votes at 16 would be absolutely fantastic for this, but with votes at 16, I think there needs to be education and citizenship lessons in schools so that we're engaging young people from a really early age, and that young people see themselves as global citizens not just in their country but for the whole world. So, I think introducing that culture at a young age is really important, and then introducing votes at 16—young people then feel equipped and well resourced to know what they're voting for, and even thinking about standing themselves in the future. So, I think it would be a really good thing.
Yes, I agree. It has to be an informed vote, and this will have an impact with future generations. I keep bringing it back to communities. I think there's a lot of learning that can be taken from the youth work sector, where we've had the establishment of local youth forums, school councils. Our young people are perhaps at an advantage to many members in communities who don't have an understanding of local government decision-making processes, or the difference between where powers lie, to take their issues forward.
So, would you be able to point, Kathryn, to some examples of good practice in some parts of Wales, where those structures are in place and are helping to address this agenda?
It was interesting to see there were some resources from the WLGA to become a councillor—a guide—but that was the only thing, when I was conducting my own research, that I could find. So, there isn't even information to tell people in communities that this is an accessible role to them. You can find, on local authority websites, a variety of information about your bins et cetera, et cetera, but not how to become a councillor. So, there's a real disconnection there in just the information that's actually provided to people. I know we're talking about young people, but there is that element of, if we're empowering young people, are we affording the same education to our communities?
Would any of you be aware of any examples in Wales where there are good connections between young people and young people's organisations and structures that encourage young people to come together and to think about issues? Those structures and schools locally connecting with the local authority, whether it's the councillors getting into the schools and the schools getting into the council headquarters, with some sort of system that ensures that happens—are there any good examples?
I mean, there is a framework of county youth assemblies, which are supported by the youth work sector. So, you have local youth councils that then elect their own delegate to the county youth assembly. There's a lot of interest in the Youth Parliament. I believe we hear who's been elected to that this afternoon at about 1.30 p.m. or something. So, there's a lot of interest in that. We have young people who have a particular interest in politics and democratic processes who get involved in things like youth councils, youth assemblies, school councils et cetera, and they're aware that there are a lot more young people outside of that who are not engaged, and they would like to engage, and we've talked to them. I've only got a parochial example, because I had a more in-depth line of inquiry from you yesterday. I've talked to our participation officer, so although I'm here as the chair of the principal youth officers for the local authorities for Wales, I've only got a bit of a sort of quite premature response on this, I'm afraid.
We have done a piece of work locally talking to our youth assembly about this, and it was done, actually, by our officer responsible for our electoral register within the local authority. So, I thought that was a good piece of work that, unbeknown to me, our local authority electoral office had contacted the youth assembly, had a session with them about how we get you engaged, how we encourage you to register to vote when you're of age et cetera, et cetera, and they gave some quite interesting responses, which I've had printed off from the officer who supports them. So, they talk about—. They like the idea of things that would come to mind like social media engagement et cetera, because that's where they are, but also things like, in school, they would like channels of peer mentoring or peer support. So, they're putting themselves forward as wanting to talk to other young people about engagement in the democratic process, and then see it also as part of something you do in personal social education lessons in schools—the teachers should include and be talking more about it as well, as well as youth workers engaging at youth clubs et cetera. But from what was said in that conversation, it feels like they've come out with a range of different ideas about how to engage, and that also involved young people talking to young people through a sort of peer approach, so older—
It sounds like a lot of interesting things are happening in your area, but it does sound quite ad hoc and reliant upon probably local leaders having an interest in it. Forgive me, but I can detect in your accent that you're a Scot.
Yes, I am.
I'm aware that, in Scotland, they do a lot more in terms of political education in schools. And, from my experience of campaigning in Scotland ahead of the referendum, there seemed to be a high level of understanding of politics, especially in terms of where decisions are made—local, Scottish Parliament, Westminster—and they seem to have an idea as to who the key personnel were in a way that was much greater than we have here. Do you have anything you can offer us on the Scottish political education system?
I'm afraid I can't. I am a product of the Scottish education system. Unfortunately, I joined the army when I left school and found myself in Wales and settled in Wales and got married et cetera. So, I've lived in Wales most of my adult life, and I'm very happy living in Wales. The only thing I can really offer—and it's probably not even helpful—is that, for whatever reason, I think Scots more politically engage, and that's a very sort of personal, parochial response.
We have a partnership with Youth Scotland. So, we're part of a five-nation partnership, which is Youth Scotland, Youth Action Northern Ireland, Youth Action UK and Youth Work Ireland, and we ran a project very recently called the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, which brought young people from the five nations together to meet with their British-Irish parliamentary members to discuss devolved issues—
You were? Brilliant. So, it just illustrates, really, how young people have an appetite for this and how quickly they can learn. You know, this was a project where we met with young people and, over a matter of months, they got to a point where they fully understood the different devolved contexts and they understood where decisions were made. And these were young people who hadn't necessarily been involved in politics as such to that point. So, the young people do have that appetite.
And I think, back to your question about examples of good practice, Merthyr in the past have done things really well, and I think if we were to look for good practice, we'd be constantly looking to the past, because participation was done, like four or five years ago, really well in Wales. With the cuts to the youth service, and the cuts to the statutory youth service particularly, we've seen an eroding of how participation is enabled amongst the young people that they work with, how they don't have youth forums to the same extent. So, I keep going back to structures, but those structures aren't in place anymore to enable young people to work at local decision-making levels. So, it's kind of, you know, you've got to strengthen your youth service to provide young people with a route into that kind of engagement. But we're not doing that currently; we're kind of eroding, slowly eroding, what we've been doing in the past very, very well. But there's definitely potential there. Young people are very interested. Young people want to engage. They're very passionate about their country. They're very passionate about the way decisions are made in their lives, both at a local and national level.
Just to add to that that I've actually got a document here, which is 'The Impact of Community-based Universal Youth Work in Scotland', and they actually look at the sector as a whole—[Inaudible.]—just that point, really. It’s an interesting document.
Okay. If we move on, then, to programmes and schemes—there are various programmes and schemes that seek to increase diversity in those standing for public office. For example, the Welsh Government's diversity and democracy programme, and also Routes to Public Life, and Youth Cymru's Voices of the Future. What would you say about those schemes and their impact?
Shall I start? I would say that they work. When we actually work with young people and we provide them with what they need in terms of being able to learn, having their voices heard, feeling that they're represented and feeling that there's a dialogue that goes both ways, a communication process that goes both ways, then they work and they're effective, and young people very rapidly and quickly grow in confidence and could grow to the point where they could start to engage with local decision-making structures and become young councillors. There are examples across the UK, I believe, of some young councillors, very young councillors. It would be great to have that in Wales. We've now got a youth parliament; it would be great to have young people representing their local opinions at a local level. They do work. They require resourcing. They require skilled, trained youth workers. So, they require effort, I suppose.
Just that, if they could form part of a consistent approach, as opposed to being quite reactive sometimes—. I think they can appear a little bit tokenistic sometimes for that reason, where these schemes pop up and they happen once, but, you know, not again.
So, you think something needs to be more consistent and more sustained.
Yes. It ties in with the education, and it's making the roles more accessible and giving young people a taste of what they could get involved in. But just that there's—yes, a consistent campaign.