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Friday, 22 February, 2002, 17:00 GMT
Wanted: More young councillors
Polling station
The government wants younger councillors
More bright, young under 35-year-olds are needed on local councils across the country to make them more representative of the multi-cultural constituents they serve, according to a government body.

A census by the Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA) shows that the average councillor in England and Wales is 57-years-old, white and retired.

When you are talking about education and work, it is essential we have councillors who are under the age of 40 who understand those issues

Paul Wheeler
IDeA Solutions

While it argues that these people have a role to play in local politics, the agency says that they are often unrepresentative of their electorate.

It is now calling on the political parties to be talent spotters of the young and those from ethnic backgrounds, rather than acting as the gatekeepers of the council chamber.

To do this, the agency is launching a Fast Track Scheme in Birmingham on Friday to encourage councillors under 35 who have the potential to become local political leaders to rise through the ranks quickly.

Paul Wheeler, assistant director of IDeA Solutions, said: "Councillors do an important job and we need to make sure that their make up represents the wider community as a whole."

More women

He added: "When you are talking about education and work, it is essential we have councillors who are under the age of 40 who understand those issues."

The census shows that many councils do not have any councillors under 35 and there is at least one council where not one of the councillors has a full time job.

On a more positive note, it also showed the number of female councillors has increased slightly to just over a quarter of the 22,000 in England and Wales.

I can't see how someone in their 50s and 60s can easily represent the views of someone who is a teenager or in their 20s

Amanda Harland
District and town councillor

Amanda Harland, 30, the youngest councillor on the Vale of White District Council, Wantage Town Council and Grove Parish Council in Oxfordshire, said mid-50s was the typical age of most of her colleagues.

"On the town council there is a girl who is a year older than me, then someone who is 40 and then a huge gap," said Miss Harland, a Tory councillor from Wantage.

"I can't see how someone in their 50s and 60s can easily represent someone who is a teenager or in their 20s."

Miss Harland says it is a challenge being the youngest councillor, but argues that the job is rewarding if employers are sympathetic when it comes to attending day-time meetings.

Voice of the youth

"To begin with people thought: "She's young. I am not sure whether I can trust her," but I have managed to prove my mettle and become the voice of the youth in the town.

"It is good being able to stand up for somebody who is unable to stand up for themselves."

Being elected on to a council is the traditional first step into politics for many.

Amanda Harland, town and district councillor
Young councillors give the youth a voice, says Miss Harland

For some, it is a stepping stone into Westminster.

Well-known examples of those who have followed this route include Home Secretary David Blunkett - former leader of Sheffield City Council - and London Mayor Ken Livingstone, former leader of the Greater London Council.

IDeA draws expertise from local authorities, the business world, professional service firms, not for profit organisations as well as other parts of the public sector.

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