Push for more diversity of candidates in Gwynedd’s ‘democratic desert’
Gareth Wyn Williams, local democracy reporter
Gwynedd Council has backed moves to attract more people to stand as councillors after 2017 saw almost a third of members returned in the “democratic desert” without any election at all.
With the county’s representatives facing re-election next May, Thursday’s full council meeting saw members back a new diversity declaration which includes trying to persuade more people from different backgrounds to take the plunge and face the electorate.
Only 16 of the county’s 75 councillors are women, with not a single member under the age of 30, with women making up two of the ten member cabinet.
But of those 75, almost a third of councillors didn’t face any election at all in 2017 after being the only names put forward in their respective wards.
Topping the Electoral Reform Society’s “Democratic Desert” list of authorities, voters in 21 wards were not given a chance to cast their ballots at all last time out.
But the new declaration, to be formalised by the end of the year, will see Gwynedd commit to being a diverse authority by trying to increase the number of females, young people, disabled and ethnic minority who stand in elections.
Cllr Owain Williams said it was “a matter of concern” that so many councillors in Gwynedd were being elected unopposed.
Cllr Mike Stevens added, “With Gwynedd having the highest proportion of people walking in without any election, I wonder why that is?
“It seems to be the culture within our council, look at Ceredigion, Conwy, we find they’re dynamic counties with building going on and development, in Gwynedd very little happens.
“And I do wonder if it’s because of the attitude we have of senior officers to some of the councillors. It was said this morning at our meeting by a very senior councillor that she felt there was no respect from too many officers towards councillors.
“I do feel if that permeates this will get worse so I feel we need to change our mindset and culture a bit to make this more dynamic to encourage people from the LGB community and women, but perhaps they don’t stand because they have more sense than us pale, white males.”
Among other proposed actions will be providing more flexibility in council business by reviewing practical arrangements and encouraging all members to take up the allowances and salaries to which they are entitled.
Particularly referring to any reimbursement for costs of care, it was felt that providing all members with fair remuneration for their work would ensure that the role of members would not be limited to those who can afford it.
The report was presented on a joint basis by both the council and opposition leaders, Dyfrig Siencyn and Angela Russell.
Cllr Nia Jeffreys, the portfolio holder for corporate support and one of the two female cabinet members, said: “Its vital that we better reflect the communities we live, this declaration represents a public commitment in that regard.”
With 16 and 17 year old allowed to vote in May’s local elections, it was said that work was also underway to promote Gwynedd Democracy Week from October 18, including a virtual Question and Answer event for would-be candidates.
Cllr Elin Walker Jones added that she would like to see reference to people to people of colour and of various sexual backgrounds.
Cllr Catrin Wager added, “It was a matter of shock, as a new councillor in 2017, to see that only 23% of members were women and I believe that figure has dropped even further since then.
“As a party we have held events, but I’d also like to express frustration with the Welsh Government taking so long to formalise the ward boundaries which has slowed down the process of attracting candidates.”