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Northern Powerhouse ‘risks becoming just another boy’s club’

Women are underrepresented in the most senior roles in the Northern Powerhouse, meaning that they could be excluded from key decision-making, new research from The Fawcett Society shows.

The society found that women make up 40% of councillors in the Northern Powerhouse region, but they are not being promoted to more senior positions, taking up just 38 of the 134 most senior leadership roles.

In addition, women make up just 21% of council leaders and directly elected mayors and 14% of chairs of established and proposed combined authorities.

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.

“Devolution is a one off opportunity to put gender equality at the heart of our country’s growth. But so far we’re missing out. Let’s get women into those leadership positions and avoid making the same old mistakes. There’s still time for new combined authorities to learn the lessons of the Northern Powerhouse.”

The report also found wide variations in how well represented women were in local government. Manchester City Council had a 50% split between male and female councillors, but only 27% of North East Lincolnshire councillors were women.

Combined authority senior leadership, meanwhile, varied from 56% in West Yorkshire to 15% in Humber LEP.

The Fawcett Society also announced that, along with the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU), it is launching a year-long commission to look at women’s role in local government.

The commission will be jointly chaired by Labour’s Dame Margaret Hodge MP and the Conservative party’s Cllr Gillian Keegan, director of Women2Win, and funded by the Barrow Cadbury Trust.

It will gather evidence on women’s representation in local government, particularly in leadership positions, and practical solutions for allowing more women to participate, with a particular focus on women of different ethnicities, ages, disabilities and caring responsibilities.

Lauren Lucas, head of projects at the LGiU, said: “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.

“It’s not just about women at the top. It’s about developing a pipeline of women leaders across local government to ensure that their voices are adequately represented at all levels.”

Research by the Fawcett Society prior to the recent local elections found that only 32% of councillors were women and warned that many had experienced sexism in local government.

A recent study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the University of Manchester found that the most prosperous Northern Powerhouse cities have not seen an increase in economic inclusion.

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