Getting more women into politics ‘needs to start at the grass roots’ in West Sussex

Sue Mullins (Lab, Northgate & West Green), West Sussex County Council
Sue Mullins (Lab, Northgate & West Green), West Sussex County Council

More women need to step into the world of politics if councils are to close the gender gap, a West Sussex councillor has said.

One hundred years after women were given the vote, the proportion of female county councillors in West Sussex is still only 33 per cent – and West Sussex is doing rather well.

That 33 per cent represents 23 councillors out of 70, while in neighbouring East Sussex the figure is 16 per cent, eight councillors out of 50.

The national average, according to a report from the Local Government Commission, is 32 per cent.

The fact that West Sussex has a female council leader in Louise Goldsmith is also something of a novelty – the national statistics are fewer than one in five.

In addition, four of the nine cabinet members are women.

But members of the governance committee agreed that more needed to be done.

Sue Mullins (Lab, Northgate & West Green) said that attracting more female candidates needed to start at ‘grass roots’.

She added: “It comes from the political parties themselves. Selection and making the political parties more accessible for women and people with disabilities and so on.

“It’s no good saying we haven’t got enough women if we haven’t got enough women coming in who are interested in politics and willing to commit themselves to it.”

Bill Acraman (Con, Worth Forest) said: “It boils down to the various political branches. They are aware that we would like to see some more women candidates – but it’s up to them whether they win or not.

“If you get more candidates you’ll get more councillors.”

Elizabeth Sparkes (Con, Cissbury) told the meeting that the same Local Government Commission report had predicted that it would be 2065 before there was equal representation on local councils.

She said: “How fantastic would it be if this council could be a real forerunner of that and try to get nearer to a 50-50 split rather earlier than 2065.

“It would be nice to have more people interested.”