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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Are our Councillors too old?

A BBC Wales survey has found that all the efforts of the Labour Assembly Government in 2003-2004 to weed out the old men and women from local Government has been in vain. In particular they claim that the statistic that the average age of councillors has risen from 61.3 to 61.7, is an indication that Labour's 'Golden Goodbye' scheme, which expended £1.6 million of public money on pay-offs to long-serving Councillors if they stood down last time, was a failure.

In actual fact, 'golden goodbyes' were adopted by just eight of Wales' 22 Councils and even in those Councils such as Swansea where the average age subsequently went down, this came about only because older Labour Councillors lost their seat to younger candidates of other parties. We said at the time that this scheme was a waste of public money and I stick by that judgement.

There is no doubt that all of our Councils could be more representative in terms of age-profile, gender and ethnicity. Ultimately, that can only be achieved through the efforts of the various parties and the co-operation of the electorate. The sort of scoial engineering being attempted by 'golden goodbyes' was not only misdirected but it was also misconceived.

As part of the mix it is necessary for every Council to have older, more experienced Councillors as well as young turks. It is no more correct to discriminate against a Councillor because he or she is old than it is if they are gay, of a disagreeable gender or of a particular ethnic group. The key determinant for voters must be if the candidates presented to them can do the job.

I do not blame the BBC for re-opening this particular issue in the way that they have. After all they are only doing their job of scrutinising the effectiveness of a particular Government policy. I just hope that the Welsh Government has learnt from all this that throwing money at an ideological nicety is not a good use of public resources.
They should try term limitations, just like they have in the US.
It's unfortunate that the Welsh Assembly Government didn't take note on the Richards Commission recommendation to introduce STV.
JAN! I notice that Annabelle Harle had a letter in the Western Mail about STV. She's Rhodri's AM assistant I believe.
Term limitations, golden goodbyes and other top-down measures will not work.

The average age of councillors is rising because there are not enough people of any age coming forward to replace the old diehards. These entered local politics when this really meant something.

We need both to enthuse people, especially working people who have much to contribute, and to remove the curbs - such as excessive central control, paperwork and bureaucracy.

Younger people are entering parliament - LibDems are to the fore here. We need to find out why, and apply the same lessons to local government.

Incidentally, I see on CIX that there are at least three councillors in England with over fifty-four years continuous service each.
Peter, I've never understood the obsession with youth in representative politics. The voters will decide who they want to represent them. The 'Golden Goodbyes scheme was wrong in principle as well as a waste of taxpayer's money.
I think US term limitations apply only to the President but I may be wrong. If the are practised more widely then I'm not convinced they're much better off for it.

I'm not sure when it was that local politics "really meant something" or stopped really meaning something and also not convinced that the older councillors currently serving have all been there since some golden age of local government.

I agree however that not enough people of all kinds are coming forward. That much has been increasingly apparent with each passing round of elections. There will be far too many seats in Wales uncontested at these elections.

Local government suits the retired who have time on their hands. Anyone who is working (especially self-employed) has it extremely difficult. If you've a young family as well it's even worse. Added to which it's a thankless task anyway.

I don't think that anybody's expressing an "obsession with youth". It's right that people will decide who they want but if that choice is between a number of candidates all cut from the same cloth, what "choice" was it.

40% over 65 and 3.3% under 35 is hardly a balance.

David Walters
David Walters said.
"I think US term limitations apply only to the President but I may be wrong. If the are practised more widely then I'm not convinced they're much better off for it."

Many US states have term limitations from your local city government up to governor and the US Senate. Most of the time such a change has been introduced by public referendum and not as a top down solution From living in a small US City I believe it does work. And there seems to be higher turnout for local elections than the federal ones.mainly because they tend to address their issues more than the national (as perceived) Here it is the other way round! Lower turnout at local elections.
I'm happy to stand corrected. However, whether term limitations deal with the issues of the original post, namely the old age of representatives, is another matter.
Higher turnout isn't necessarily a reflection of a better standard of government or better quality of candidates. After all 99% of Iraqis turned out to vote for Saddaam Hussein (OK a facetious point, but the point is still there)

David Walters
It would be, possibly in removing those who stay in office for years, and never leave. Of, course, you could argue that might not be a bad thing because it does not mean always that they are not good elected representatives! It just does gives someone else a chance, and prevents stagnation (if you know what I am getting at)
That was too short response to both David and Frank’s comments. Yes it would take more than simple solutuions such as term limitations to solve the malaise in local government. It seems a pity that the only way that you see the back of useless councilors is death!
Swansea is to be congratulated on not having one uncontested ward, according to the table in the Western Mail.

That article also includes a suggestion from Jeff Jones that the number of unitary authorities should be reduced from 22 to 8. Why does that number seem familiar? Has he been primed??

This wouldn't solve the problem either. In fact, by making local government centres more remote, it would probably serve to deter aspirants.
Regarding Frank's comments above, regarding Jeff Jones - Jeff Jones is starting to get more active, appearing in the media more and more often, is he making a comeback? I hope so, I see he got his face on the front page of the Glamorgan Gazette this week, this should mean more votes for Messrs Lewis and Plant in Maesteg West.

One final comment over councillors ages, I may be wrong but didn't JJJ submit evidence to the Richards Commission on Local Government describe Councils as "Geriocracy"?
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