Communities secretary Ruth Kelly has announced the establishment of a new commission to look at how diversity in local government can be improved.
The Councillors Commission will look at ways to better support councillors and encourage more people from a wider range of backgrounds to play a leading role in their communities.
The commission – led by Dame Jane Roberts, a prominent local government figure – will look at what barriers are preventing ordinary people from becoming councillors, and what steps can be taken to get more people involved.
The commission will report to Kelly by November 2007.
A recent survey of councillors in England revealed that 96% are white, compared with 2.7% Asian and 0.5% black.
The average age of a councillor is 58, with more than 50% aged over 60. Just 0.3% are under 25, and fewer than 8% are aged under 40.
The commission will consider:
Working with local business to promote more part-time and flexible working and encouraging employers to value people serving as councillors by providing time off for their duties and recognising their experience
Reviewing the time commitments needed to be a councillor and timetables of local meetings
Encouraging councils to look at better childcare support
Providing better information on how to become a councillor and what the job entails, such as work shadowing schemes, information and awareness campaigns in black and minority ethnic communities
Increasing support for councillors to develop the necessary skills for the role and ensure they are retained.
Kelly said: “This is a big task, but I am confident that the commission will provide vital input on how we get the best people for our councils – and the best councils for our people.”