Britain’s councillors: old, white, wealthy…hard-working?

Councillors are older, working longer and are more educated than in the past, according to a new survey.

Councillors are older, working longer and are more educated than in the past, according to a new survey.

The Census of Local Authority Councillors 2013, conducted by the Local Government Association and the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), reveals the makeup of Britain’s councillors.

The average age of a councillor is now over 60, up from 58 a decade ago, while just one in eight are under 45. Almost half of all councillors are retired – 47 per cent, up from 37 per cent in 2001 – with nearly a quarter aged over 70. Despite their age, however, two thirds intend to stand again when their term ends.

Meanwhile, those in full time work appear to be dropping off, with less than a fifth of councillors having full-time jobs. Instead, two thirds of councillors hold other voluntary or unpaid positions.

Most councillors are therefore essentially full-time ‘activists’; just 45 per cent are in work. They now spend an average of 25 hours a work on council business, up over two hours since 2010. ‘Labour Party members spent the most hours on average (28.5) among the main political parties,’ although much of this time is on party activities.

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Although wealth was not analysed, such shifts could suggest councillors are increasingly coming from wealthy backgrounds, corroborated by the fact that 40 per cent of those in work are in managerial or executive positions (a figure higher among Tories).

Just 15 per cent said that they would not be able to fulfil their role without the stipend, compared to 63 per cent who said they could to some or a full extent. Greens were those who required the financial help the most, with 26 per cent saying they couldn’t be a councillor were it not for the support.

And while 18 per cent reported that their employers did not support their council work at all, the figure rose to over 23 per cent for those from non-white backgrounds.

Elected council members now appear to be more educated than ever, with the proportion of councillors with no qualifications now sitting at just 5 per cent, just over a third of what it was ten years ago.

While the percentage of male councillors decreased from 71 per cent in 2001 to 67 per cent last year, 96 per cent were of white ethnic origin, a figure that has stayed relatively static over the years.

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Other interesting findings include the party defection rate, which for Liberal Democrats is 3 per cent, almost 5 per cent for former Independents and 4 per cent for those elected as UKIP – compared to just 1 per cent for Labour councillors.

90 per cent of councillors stood because they wanted to ‘serve their community’, although Green Party councillors were driven to become councillors because of their political beliefs (97.2 per cent) and a desire to change things (81.7 per cent).

Although local councillors are doing good work, it remains to be seen how we reverse the seemingly permanent situation where our local representatives are old, white and male…a bit like in all public bodies, really.

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