Are councils representing their communities?

Jason Lowther

Fresh from this year’s successful Solace Summit, the organisation this week launched a new report on “Understanding and Improving Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in the Local Government Workforce”.  It’s a challenging but inspiring read raising fundamental issues for the sector where a recent survey found that more than 80% of children’s services directors in English upper-tier local authorities were white British and only 2% identified as black African or Caribbean while Asians were not represented at all. 
[Full disclosure – Inlogov and the LGA supported the research, which was commissioned by Solace, undertaken by Shared Intelligence, and funded by Zurich Municipal].

Many councils are publishing only limited information on the diversity of their workforce.  The Solace research analysed workforce profile reports of the 152 “top tier” local authorities in England.  The research found that just over half (55%) of these councils publish detailed statistics of their workforce in terms of ethnicity and provide the necessary level of information to compare with the local workforce by sub-category of ethnicity. A further 38% only disclosed an overall percentage of BAME employees, and EDI Workforce reports were not found for a dozen councils.  Almost a fifth of the reports were seriously out of date (19% from before 2020).  The best performing area was the West Midlands, with 12 of their 14 councils publishing complete data.  Only about half of the councils nationally provided pay and grade information by ethnicity.  The report recognises that workforce data is often unreliable or out of date.

Some councils are achieving a workforce that reflects their community’s ethnic mix.  Out of 140 councils with complete and partial information, in 49 councils the percentage of BAME employees is greater than the BAME working population. However, outside London and the East Midlands, in each region the council workforce has a lower BAME percentage than the local working population.  The representation of minority ethnic groups appears to drop significantly at senior or leadership positions, and among the top earners. 

The report makes three big recommendations to improve the value of council workforce data.  First, being transparent about the quality and completeness of the information for example by including the response or completion rate for ethnicity data in the council’s HR system.  Secondly, adopting  a consistent categorisation of ethnic groups at sub-category level (in line with the Census 2021).  Thirdly, standardising the data presentation, for example using a standard approach of recording ethnicity at 10,000 pound pay bands and median pay gaps.

Solace has committed to champion diversity.  The Solace launch webinar for the report saw Non-Executive Director Leads on Diversity & Inclusion, Nazeya Hussain and Chris Naylor, discuss Nazeya’s powerful lived experiences and the organisation’s “statement of intent” championing equality, diversity & inclusion across local government.  

In a country where over 20 per cent of the population reports being from a minority ethnic group and yet Black and minority ethnic people are 2.5 times more likely to be in relative poverty than their white counterparts and Bangladeshi men are still 3 times more likely to die from Covid, more councils need to look like their local community.  This report shines an important light on how to get there, and how we can better check whether progress is being made.

Jason Lowther is Director of the Institute for Local Government Studies (INLOGOV), University of Birmingham

Picture credit:[email protected]/

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