Just a third of the councillors in Bedford are women

Campaigners say more needs to be done to ensure female voices are heard

Just a third of Bedford's councillors were female in 2021, figures show, as equality campaigners urge more women to stand for election on International Women's Day today (Tuesday).

With research by the Fawcett Society and Democracy Club showing women make up just a third of councillors across England's local authorities, campaigners say more needs to be done to ensure female voices are heard in council chambers.

At Bedford Borough Council, 14 of 40 councillors in 2021 were female – at 35 per cent, a larger proportion than was recorded five years ago, when 13 councillors were women.

"Almost all councils continue to be dominated by men"

Frances Scott, founder of the 50:50 Parliament campaign group, said women have been consistently outnumbered in political systems nationally and called for more to be done to boost the number of female politicians and ensure their voices are heard.

She said: "Women's experiences of local transport, of education, of juggling a career and parenting, of violence, of healthcare and maternity services are simply not properly represented and society is losing out.

“We need to support women to stand for elected office so that our local governments and Parliament can draw upon the widest possible pool of talent and the 32 million women who live and work in the UK can have an equal share of voice."

The number of female councillors across England has grown in recent years, with 6,021 now in council chambers, up from 5,802 in 2017. That means 35 per cent of council seats nationally are held by women, up from 33 per cent% five years ago.

But Jemima Olchawski, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, described the pace of change in local government as "glacial".

She said: "The 2021 local elections saw a lot of new councillors elected but we saw more of the same.

"Almost all councils continue to be dominated by men.

"It's not good enough – we need to see our political parties setting out, and committing to, action plans which will improve diversity and improve society for us all."

In an effort to improve female representation, the Fawcett Society has called for the continuation of remote council meetings and the implementation of maternity policies at all councils.

The Local Government Association, which represents councils, has echoed those calls and is working with local authorities to increase diversity and inclusion.

Cllr Marianne Overton, vice chair of the LGA, said: “We know that many prospective councillors are put off standing because of their already busy lives.

"We want to see more women, parents and carers stand for election and encourage them to step up to leadership roles in local government, while still being able to live their lives outside of the council chamber.

“Councils want to create a working environment which is attractive and supportive for people from all groups and backgrounds, to help further improve representation locally while producing the next generation of civic leaders.”

The Government is expected to respond soon to the findings of a call for evidence conducted in response to calls from councils to retain remote or hybrid meetings post-pandemic.

A spokeswoman from the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said the Government recognised the importance of gender equality and urged councils to do more to attract a diverse range of candidates.