1 JUNE 2016

New research from the Fawcett Society today reveals that while the Government’s plans for a Northern Powerhouse to boost economic growth in the North of England surge ahead, gender equality continues to lag behind.

Despite 40% of councillors in the Northern Powerhouse region being women, the most senior roles in the new tier of government are dominated by men. Women make up just 28% of those in leadership roles in the combined authorities which are set to deliver George Osborne’s vision for a reinvigorated local democracy.  These figures come as the Fawcett Society launches a year-long study to tackle gender bias in local government.

Other key findings include:

  • Women make up just 21% of Council Leaders and Directly Elected Mayors in the Northern Powerhouse Region
  • Only 1 of the 7 chairs of the established and proposed combined authorities in the northern powerhouse region are women
  • Of 134 senior leadership roles in the Northern Powerhouse 96 (or 72%) of these are occupied by men
  • The City deals underpinning devolution come with a commitment to regional directly elected mayors – but so far only 4 of the 16 existing directly elected mayors in England and Wales are women

The report also finds cause for some optimism, for instance, Manchester City Council has achieved equal representation of women and men and a number of others such as North Tyneside, Leeds City Council and Hull City Council have achieved near 50:50 representation. But these pockets of progress do not always translate into more women at the most senior levels.  Overall men still heavily dominate in senior positions of power.

These figures come as the Fawcett Society and Local Government Information Unit (LGIU) launch a year-long Commission, jointly chaired by Labour’s Dame Margaret Hodge MP and Conservative councillor Cllr Gillian Keegan, Director of Women2Win, assessing whether local government is working for women. Funded by the Barrow Cadbury Trust, the Commission will adopt a strategic approach and focus on the newly created structures at local level and how they are including or excluding women. Find out more here.

Commenting Sam Smethers, Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society said:

“The truth is, whether we intend to or not, we are devolving power from women to men by establishing new structures for local government with no regard for gender equality or diversity.

“We know that 75% of local government employees are women and women are disproportionately dependent on local services.  Women’s representation matters but at the moment the Northern Powerhouse risks becoming just another boys’ club.”

Lauren Lucas, Head of Projects, Local Government Information Unit (LGiU), said: “The diversity of leadership across local government is simply not good enough. We see this very clearly as the prominent voices around the devolution agenda continue to emerge.

“The Commission’s work is vital at this stage to ensure that women’s voices are included in these essential debates that have such a huge impact on women’s lives.”

Read the report here.

Read the full press release here.

For more information about the Fawcett Society’s latest research or to register your interest in submitting evidence please visit our Local Government page.