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Councils in Bucks urged to introduce maternity leave

Councils in Bucks urged to introduce maternity leave

Published by Mix96 News at 1:11pm 11th July 2019.

AVDC and Buckinghamshire County Council are being urged to introduce maternity leave for councillors, after research revealed they have some of the biggest gender gaps in England.

Gender equality charity the Fawcett Society said equal representation in councils is vital, as decisions made by local government have a disproportionate impact on women's lives.

A 2017 report carried out by the charity with the Local Government Information Unit think tank called for the introduction of maternity rights at all councils, to make them more accessible for women.

But new research by the Fawcett Society has found that AVDC and BCC are two of almost 250 local authorities that has yet to introduce any.

Council rules for England state that if a councillor fails to attend meetings for six months, they can be sacked from the council.

This means that if female councillors take the 12 months' maternity leave they would be entitled to in other jobs, they could lose their position.

The Fawcett Society says this is partly to blame for the lack of diversity in councils.

AVDC

Aylesbury Vale is one of the most male-dominated local authorities in England.

Women currently hold just 13 of Aylesbury Vale District Council's 59 council seats – 22%.

BCC

Meanwhile women currently hold 15 of Buckinghamshire County Council's 49 council seats – 31%, below the national average.

Across the country, female representation increased by less than one percentage point following the local elections in May, to 34%.

Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, said there was "no excuse" for inaction.

“Women’s representation in local government is at a standstill," she said.

"This is fundamentally unacceptable and all parties must take action to change it.

"Local government has a disproportionate impact on women’s lives so it particularly needs to have women’s voices heard."

The Fawcett Society sent Freedom of Information requests to 354 local authorities earlier this year.

Of the 266 that responded, only 19 (7%) had a maternity policy in place for all their councillors, while 20 had policies for councillors who received a special responsibility allowance – those in senior cabinet positions.

Neither BCC or AVDC have a formal policy in place for either group.

It also had no reference to gender equality or tackling sexism in the code of conducts councillors have to abide by.

The Local Government Association, which represents councils in England, said it had introduced a toolkit for councils to help them develop policies to encourage women to stand.

Marianne Overton, vice chair of the LGA, said: 

“It is vital that the make-up of councils reflects their communities and their experience.

“The latest figures show that there is still more to be done to reduce the gap between women and men elected to local government.

“The LGA is constantly working with councils to improve diversity and inclusion and we launched our toolkit in March 2019 to address the needs of those who have other important commitments and responsibilities, such as caring for children and looking after elderly relatives."

AVDC says it understands there is a "wide range" of issues that may be preventing more women working as local councillors. 

But it doesn't attribute the slow take-up to a lack of formal maternity leave. 

Council leader Angela Macpherson said:

"There are other established processes in place that enable a councillor to take extended time away, if necessary, and still retain their position.

"We also have provisions in place to pay allowances to councillors who have child care responsibilities, or are the main carer of an older dependent relative - so that they can attend meetings and not be financially disadvantaged.

"There are provisions within the Scheme of Members' Allowances for a Dependent Carer's Allowance. This is open to all Members who are the main carers of dependent relatives.

"The allowance can be paid where a Member requires care provision for a dependent relative or partner to enable them to perform any of their approved duties.

"Dependants are defined as children aged 14 or less, or relatives or partners requiring a carer to be in attendance. A carer is defined as anyone over the age of 16 who is not part of the member's household.

"The allowance is reimbursement of actual costs incurred up to a maximum payment of £8.72 per hour for childcare and £17.45 per hour for care of dependent relatives or partners and is payable for the length of the qualifying duty plus reasonable travelling time."

A spokesperson for Bucks County Council added:

"We recognise how important it is that people of all backgrounds and circumstances should feel equally able to put themselves forward as Councillors. Equality across our organisation, both for officers and elected Members, is very important to us.

"Like other councils, Buckinghamshire County Council Councillors do not have formal leave arrangements including Maternity Leave, as they receive an allowance rather than being salaried employees.

"There is a legal requirement for Members to attend one meeting every six months, but of course if a Councillor is unable to attend all the meetings they are expected to with good reason, then there is a process whereby a dispensation can be agreed."

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