The obstacle course of women’s representation in national and local government.

Chris Game

With last month’s Conservative by-election win, the Cumbria constituency of Copeland secured its place in parliamentary history. But exactly what place?

Throughout the campaign we were regularly reminded how Copeland (quite likely) or Stoke-on-Trent Central (conceivably) could produce the first government party by-election gain since 1982, and, without a defecting incumbent or the poll-topping candidate being disqualified, since 1960. And serious nerds knew it would be the first (pay attention here!) to overturn a main opposition party majority of more than 3%, without a defection, disqualification or significant change in the contesting parties, since 1878.

Copeland indeed proved to be the history maker, and yet … every one of these records (believe me, there were others) could in theory be overturned. For Copeland’s irremovable place in parliamentary history – and certainly to justify its heading a commemoration of March 8th as International Women’s Day – we should look first not to its voters, but to its MPs.

The by-election was instigated by Labour’s Jamie Reed announcing his intention to swap his MP’s job for one with Sellafield, the local nuclear decommissioning authority. In January, when he formally ceased being an MP, for the first time, sitting male MPs (454) were outnumbered by the TOTAL number of women MPs EVER (455) – that is, in all the 99 years since women first got the vote.

Feminist history had been made, but, slightly unsatisfactorily, by the action of a male. However, on March 1st Copeland’s victorious Conservative MP, Trudy Harrison, was sworn in as the 196th female MP in this parliament and the 456th ever.

Recalling that it was the Commons of just 20 years ago that Tessa Jowell famously reckoned contained more Johns and Jonathans than its 60 women MPs, it obviously does constitute progress. Even if she had to slip in the odd Jack or Jimmy, her point was made: the fewer than 1 in 10 women was a national embarrassment.

But the 30% that today’s 196 women represent, and the resulting 47th position in the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s Women in Parliaments listing, will strike many, as it did the Commons Women and Equalities Select Committee, as little less embarrassing, and “a serious democratic deficit” (para 7).

A description it would presumably apply to English local government too, since the numbers now are virtually the same. When Jowell did her John count, women members of England’s principal councils totalled over a quarter. Since when, while the proportion of women MPs was tripling, that of women councillors increased at the gastropodal rate of 1% every 3 years, to (based on the most recent English national councillors’ survey) an overall 32%.

In the other UK nations, women’s representation in local government is significantly lower than in England (p.7) – Scotland 24% of councillors, Wales 26%, Northern Ireland 25% – but their representation in their respective devolved bodies is in each case relatively higher – Scotland 35%, Wales 42%, and Northern Ireland, following last week’s elections to the new, smaller Assembly, 30%.

Which brings us to the next big English local elections – those in May for the elected mayors of six recently created Combined Authorities (CAs). What kind of visibility will women have in the governance of these new bodies? To which the regrettable answer at present appears to be: precious little. Otherwise there’d be no need for ‘The People’s Powerhouse’ (provisionally May 9th at Doncaster Rovers’ Keepmoat football ground) – the retort of some enterprising, and outraged, women to last month’s glitzy but shamefully mishandled Second UK Northern Powerhouse (NP) International Conference.

The NP, of course, is the large-scale devolution vehicle devised by former Chancellor George Osborne, with the Greater Manchester CA as its major driver. Its consciously macho name is enough to goad some, and the conference advertising did the rest, oozing clichés about delegates’ £450 + VAT opportunity to “network with the key players, potential business partners and stakeholders in the Northern Powerhouse economy”. For unfortunately it seemed that all the really KPs, PBPs and Ss – and certainly all 15 originally advertised main speakers – were male.

It almost beggars belief, and yet the organisers’ initial response to the women’s protest was reportedly one of ‘defiance’. And it’s not as if the NP hadn’t been warned – back in 2014 with a widely mocked picture of a dozen “pale, male” and rather self-satisfied council leaders signing the first Greater Manchester devo deal. And again more recently, in the Fawcett Society’s actual “analysis of women’s representation” in the Northern Powerhouse.

Defining the NP’s ‘senior leadership roles’ as council leaders/mayors, deputy leaders, CA chairs, and chief executives, the Society’s researchers found that only 28% of these 134 posts across the NP’s seven CAs were occupied by women, including just one of the CA chairs – with even that 28% owing much to non-politicians: the 40% of women CEs.

Here in the West Midlands the 7-borough WMCA figures are even more unbalanced. 7 constituent authority leaders and 5 non-constituent authority leaders – all male; (currently) 11 CEs – 10 male; 3 LEP chairs – all male.

And, like most CAs, the signs are that we’re heading for a male mayor. Of the 33 currently known mayoral candidates, 27 are male (82%), including 12 or the 14 Conservative and Labour candidates – the two latter exceptions, both Labour, being Lesley Mansell in the West of England, and, perhaps the most likely ‘First Woman Metro Mayor’, Sue Jeffrey in Tees Valley.

I feel the final words on this International Women’s Day, that at least in its present form originated with the UN, should go to the Women and Equalities Select Committee, mentioned briefly above. Clearly unconvinced by the various parties’ earnest but unsubstantiated commitments to improve their selection performance, the Committee calls on the Government to recognise its role: to set a “target of 45 per cent for representation of women in Parliament and local government by 2030 in response to the UN indicators for Sustainable Development Goal 5.5; [and] set out how it plans to achieve this target, working with political parties.” Now if only the head of that Government were a woman …


Chris Game - pic

Chris Game is a Visiting Lecturer at INLOGOV interested in the politics of local government; local elections, electoral reform and other electoral behaviour; party politics; political leadership and management; member-officer relations; central-local relations; use of consumer and opinion research in local government; the modernisation agenda and the implementation of executive local government.


Designing in Collaboration: Challenges for the new Combined Authorities

Max Lempriere and Vivien Lowndes

At a workshop hosted in December 2015 by City-REDI, INLOGOVThe Public Services Academy at the University of Birmingham practitioners and academics from the world of local government came together to share experiences on the current Combined Authorities and city-region devolution agenda. In the fifth of a series of posts Max Lempriere and Vivien Lowndes reflect on the day’s major talking points.

The raison d’être of Combined Authorities is to foster collaboration amongst neighbouring local authorities in a time of limited resources, fiscal restraint and ‘wicked issues’. The goal is to stimulate economic growth through better integrating transport, business support and skills development at the sub-regional level.  Alongside the growth agenda, combined authorities are considering their potential role in public service transformation, especially in relation to health and social care.  Combined authorities are also an opportunity to express local identities and challenge London-centric policymaking through, for example, the development of the Northern Powerhouse or Midlands Engine.

By pooling resources, local authorities can avoid duplication and, share staff, expertise and ideas – and risks. This kind of ‘public-public’ partnership can lay the groundwork for the Combined Authority, but collaboration needs to goes far wider to include a range of organisations from the public, private and civil society sectors.  Indeed, the three Local Enterprise Partnerships in the West Midlands will be full members of the new combined authority.  So it isn’t just the case that constituent local authorities need to collaborate. Indeed, the more diverse the range of organisations involved, the greater the potential in terms of gaining insight.   And engaging with civil society groups holds the promise not just of leveraging expertise and capacity, but also of enhancing citizen involvement in local decision making.  Since the Greater Manchester Combined Authority was given budgetary control over local NHS spending (February 2015), this has necessitated collaboration between local council leaders, health and social care providers, clinical commissioning groups, and a range of patient and community bodies.

There is considerable scope for local Universities to play an important collaborative role in the devolution agenda.  Supporting the new combined authorities will require bringing together those who create and apply knowledge within different sectors.  Universities can make available an evidence base to support economic development activities, but also to inform new collaborative governance arrangements themselves.  Universities themselves have a strong incentive to engage proactively in knowledge transfer, given the Treasury’s insistence that research must be able to show demonstrable ‘impact’.  Universities can also play an ‘honest broker’ role in convening opportunities among relevant parties, as is happening in the current move to establish a Midlands Engine to rival (or complement) the Northern Powerhouse.

Despite these opportunities, collaboration is deeply challenging. It requires the fostering of an environment in which the needs of the Combined Authority as a whole are put before those of individual local authorities. This is a difficult task, especially when organisations have been used to having executive sway over their own actions.   Rather than seeking ‘competitive advantage’, organisations need to focus on the potential gains from ‘collaborative advantage’.  In a nutshell, this offers individual organisations the chance to achieve outcomes that they wouldn’t have been able to accomplish on their own.  In fact, they may not even have thought of them!  The aim is not just to improve the delivery of existing services, but to re-imagine what local government might offer a locality through collaborative working.  Entirely new visions, and ways of working, could arise out of the process of collaboration.

New forms of leadership are important in fostering collaboration. Different skills and personal qualities are required, in comparison with leading a single organization.  Research shows that, whatever structures and procedures are put in place, it is often ‘special people’ who make the difference.  Such individuals may not be in the most senior positions, but they demonstrate the ability to bring different groups together, build trust and foster creativity, identify and harness the added value from collaboration, and maximize learning.  Typical personal skills are sociability, pragmatism, personal resilience and a sense of humour!  Collaboration is more than a list of email addresses or skype contacts.  Face-to-face contact and practical step-by-step objectives are crucial.  We all know these sorts of natural collaborators when we meet them.  Talent-spotting for these skills is an urgent task for councils considering secondments to the new combined authorities, or new collaborative roles at council level.  Nurturing new collaborative champions is a responsibility for all partners, as is ensuring that we all learn from those to whom collaboration comes more naturally.   We can’t create these ‘special people’, but we can foster environments in which they flourish – and are rewarded.  How many performance management agreements, or appraisal systems, take account of collaborative as well as organizational achievements?

While new directly elected mayors will head up the major combined authorities, and act as important points of accountability, they won’t provide a substitute for a network of committed ‘boundary spanners’ on the ground.  What they can do is provide the overall vision for their locality, providing a clear answer to the question: What is devolution for?  Mayors can also champion particular forms of collaborative behaviour that put the interests of the locality before that of any individual organization, and also prioritises engagement with residents, communities and local businesses.

Collaboration needs to be the DNA of the new combined authorities.  A commitment to collaboration needs to inform the design of all the new roles, structures and processes.   Collaboration needs to be designed-in from the start.  The goal should be the integration rather than the simple aggregation, of governance capacities within the locality.

This series of workshops is being supported by the Economic and Social Research Council, Local Government Association and the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (SOLACE) and is led by Catherine Staite, Director of INLOGOV and SOLACE’s Research Facilitator for Local Government.



Max Lempriere is a final year PhD researcher at the Institute for Local Government Studies at the University of Birmingham. His research interests include institutional design, local government policy making, devolution, urban planning and sustainable development.

Vivien Lowndes photo

Professor Vivien Lowndes is involved in research, teaching and knowledge transfer on local governance and public services. She is particular interested in partnerships, citizen participation, and gender issues. Currently Vivien is working on the development of Combined Authorities in the context of devolution, local government responses to austerity, Police and Crime Commissioners’ gender policies, and the use of evidence in migration policy. With colleagues at INLOGOV, she is also engaged in comparative research analysing innovative governance institutions in the UK and Brazil.

INLOGOV-facilitated Hull Commission receives media, business and community endorsement for its final report

Daniel Goodwin, Senior Associate Fellow

The Hull Commission’s final report was published on 13th January 2016 and was widely reported in regional media. The independent Commission, which was facilitated by INLOGOV, said that a fresh joint approach to economic development and local government organisation is needed in Hull and the East Riding. It found that Hull and the East Riding are interconnected and should seek a fresh way forward together and that the two areas often pull in different directions when they should be managed as one system. A new outward looking approach is needed if the area as a whole is to make the most of the opportunities available from devolution and the Northern Powerhouse.

The Commission was asked to review the effects of the existing boundary on the city and sub-region. The existing boundary has the effect of making Hull look like a small city of 256,000, with up to 240,000 people and 2,700 businesses left out of the picture. Given the real size of its travel to work area and economy ‘Greater Hull’ should be considered as being a city of around 500,000. The boundary significantly skews not only statistics and the way the area is perceived but works against the ability of the city and sub-region to function effectively as a single economic unit.

One possible way forward would be to move the boundary further into the East Riding. However, the Commission took the view that this would be highly unpopular, could well make the remainder of the East Riding unviable and, in any case, is probably impossible under current Boundary Commission rules.

The Commission therefore concluded that the only logical solution to the boundary issue would be to merge the two local authorities. This would make it far easier to join up economic development and infrastructure strategies and develop more effective arrangements for health and social care commissioning. Furthermore, complete removal of the boundary would achieve a political balance and overcome some of the reasons behind public opposition to redrawing it. The Commission also noted the political realities that make this logical solution a probable non-starter in the immediate future, and the need to take account of the rapidly developing Government agenda on devolution and the Northern Powerhouse.

The Commission was required to consider ways in which local government in Hull and the East Riding might better meet the goals of being effective, efficient and accountable. The devolution agenda has moved very swiftly, yet Hull and the East Riding are still not part of devolved arrangements such as those in Greater Manchester and the Sheffield City Region, pooling expertise on growth and infrastructure, with greater powers to make positive change happen. The Commission considered that this must be urgently addressed.

Furthermore, with the Northern Powerhouse and Enterprise Zone developments in mind, the Commission believes that there is a powerful case for a Combined Authority based on the Humber, providing focus for the development of the economy, distribution networks, infrastructure and environmental matters centred on it. It found that political animosities have stood in the way of progress on this option in the recent past. If at all possible they should be addressed and the possibility of a Humber Combined Authority brought back onto the table. The Commission considered that that appropriate consultation with business and a full public debate would make it possible and reflected this in its recommendations.

The Commission heard that there is a possibility that Hull will become a partner, without the East Riding, in the West Yorkshire Combined Authority. It considered this to be a poor outcome because it neglects the economic significance of the Humber, leaves Hull as a small, junior partner and cements the boundary problem further. It also heard that the East Riding is in active discussions with North Yorkshire and York about a North Yorkshire Combined Authority. This would present a similarly poor outcome because it would take the “Greater Hull” business rates with it into a different pool, splitting the economic development and infrastructure planning further away from Hull. Given all the above, the Commission concluded that Hull and the East Riding must be managed as one system, not two. This would provide the area with a much more powerful voice in any Combined Authority arrangements. This view was endorsed by 30 leaders from business, public and community sectors who met to discuss the report. The group was very supportive of the Commission’s concern to support the economic opportunities of the Humber and to ensure that Hull and the East Riding stay together in any future devolved arrangements.

There was also concern not only that the area should in future look outward to the national and international stage but also that local community identity should be respected, whilst ensuring that the Humber develops positively for all who live work and study here.

There was real concern that Yorkshire as a whole is missing out by not coming to an agreement with government about future devolution arrangements. The group wanted local politicians to exhibit a greater sense of urgency and to work together to resolve a positive way forward.

Further information and links to sources may be found through the Commission’s pages on INLOGOV’s website at:


Know your local Councillor Photographs - St Albans - May 2008

Daniel has worked in local government for over 30 years in a range of councils and was previously Executive Director of Finance and Policy at the Local Government Association and Chief Executive of St Albans City & District Council. He is an INLOGOV Senior Associate Fellow, contributing to thinking, learning and action in local leadership and services, the wider public sector and beyond. Daniel has a Masters in Public Administration from Warwick Business School and is also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.