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Combined authorities risk being ‘old boys’ club’ as 93% of leaders are white men

A huge majority of 93% of top positions in all six of the newly-formed combined authorities will be held by white men, prompting claims that English devolution is at risk of becoming a “play thing of the old boys’ club”, the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) has today warned.

In its report, ‘From City Hall to Citizens’ Hall: Democracy, Diversity and English Devolution’, the organisation found that only two cabinet members of the six authorities will be women, and only one is from a BME background.

The ERS predicted that only one female mayor was likely to win, most probably in Tees Valley, out of seven women running from a total of 39 candidates across all six regions.

Even in the most gender diverse cabinet, only one of five authority leaders is a woman, and in four cabinets there are no women at all.

The organisation also raised concern about many combined authorities being dominated by one party, thus leading to huge risks against proper scrutiny as members of cabinet and scrutiny committees would be plucked from the mayors’ party.

This has led the ERS to call on candidates to back reform and base scrutiny committees on vote share rather than seat share, adopting a proportional representation system via the Single Transferable Vote for local elections.

Katie Ghose, its chief executive, said that the findings showed that parties had “dropped their guard” when it comes to diversity and democracy in the new combined authorities.

“With 93% of the most powerful posts being controlled by men, these institutions risk magnifying the problems of representation that already exist in local government,” she argued. “And many of the new institutions will effectively be ‘one-party states’, with mayors held to account by their own party colleagues. 
“It’s concerning to see the most powerful positions in these new authorities being dominated by the ‘usual suspects’. These new bodies can’t be allowed to be the preserve of the old boys’ club – with the and cabinet members often being the same as those who previously had power, only with less accountability.”
Ghose also issued a stark warning that without a new governance model and consultation with local residents, voters could see a “stitch-up”, which is effectively a “recipe for disaster”.
“It’s time to inject some democracy and diversity into English devolution,” she added. “With the public largely shut out of the process, and models imposed rather than chosen, so far citizen involvement in the constitutional future of their own areas has been minimal. That must change.”
The new authorities provide fresh opportunities for leaders to open up their doors to reform, and this must be acted on to ensure the local government are not the preserve of a small elite, according to the CEO.

“We call on all candidates across the regions to back our seven recommendations for reform, and put real diversity and democracy into English devolution,” she concluded.

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