The Senedd Chamber
The Senedd Chamber by Wojtek Gurak

Ethnic minorities, women and disabled people remain under-represented in local politics and more must be done to improve diversity, a Senedd inquiry concluded.

John Griffiths chaired the local government committee inquiry which found that town, community and principal councils in Wales are still not representative of their populations.

The Labour MS for Newport East said the inquiry raises important questions about democracy and warned: “Unfortunately, it’s clear that there remains much more work to be done to ensure that local government represents people from all backgrounds.”

While the committee welcomed the Welsh government’s Access to Elected Office Fund, Senedd Members found more needs to be done to raise awareness of its existence.

Disabled people can apply to the fund, which aims to ensure a level playing field with non-disabled candidates. For example, grants can be used to deliver leaflets or pay for sign language interpretation at hustings.

The committee recommends that a support scheme should be developed to assist other under-represented groups, such as ethnic minorities, people on low incomes or those with caring responsibilities.

Mr Griffiths said: “An assistance scheme to support people who are under-represented in politics needs to be a Welsh Government priority if we are serious about improving the diversity of local representatives.

“I’m pleased to see provision for this in the Elections and Elected Bodies bill, which we will be scrutinising over the next few months.”

‘Dearth of data’

Electoral Reform Society Cymru gave evidence to the inquiry, telling members that the number of female councillors increased from 28% in 2017 to 36% in 2022 – which it described as a slow rate of progress.

The local government committee heard there is a lack of background data on candidates.

Councils are required to survey candidates about their backgrounds – but only 12% responded to the 2022 survey.

Mr Griffiths said: “There is a dearth of robust data available, and work must be done to get an accurate picture of the situation in Wales.”

Committee members expressed sadness at the closure of Chwarae Teg, which ran mentoring schemes and campaigned for change over many years.

In light of the charity’s closure, it said the Welsh Government should access the capacity to deliver mentoring schemes and quickly identify how gaps can be filled. 

In its report, which makes 13 recommendations to the Welsh government, the committee also calls for better sharing of good practice and an update on work to combat abuse in politics.