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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 April 2007, 07:28 GMT 08:28 UK
Councillor 'barriers' scrutinised
A polling station
Young people are often put off from standing as councillors
A new commission is to examine why so few young people, women and ethnic minorities stand in local elections.

The Councillors Commission will investigate the "barriers" which stop them trying to become councillors.

Its chairwoman, Dame Jane Roberts, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We know that people know very little about how councils work."

Fewer than three in 10 councillors are women, and only 4% are from ethnic minority backgrounds.

'Legitimacy and credibility'

Next month's local elections in England will be the first in which 18-year-olds can stand for office after the minimum age of candidacy was lowered from 21.

That change came as council chambers continue to be dominated by white men in their fifties and sixties.

The role of councillors is to become more and more engaged with their communities
Dame Jane Roberts

The commission will explore why so few woman and people from ethnic minorities making it into council chambers.

It will look at issues such as getting time off work, lack of childcare support, and the sometimes awkward timing of council meetings.

Dame Jane Roberts, a former leader of Camden Council, said: "We know that the role of councillors is to become more and more engaged with their communities and of course all people can represent other people.

"But I think for the legitimacy and credibility of local councillors, it is important that they more reflect the populations that they serve."

The commission will take evidence from around the country, including from existing councillors, and report back in November.

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