North Hertfordshire District Council: Councillor Parental Leave Policy

The objective of the Councillor Parental Leave Policy is to ensure that insofar as possible councillors in North Hertfordshire District Council are able to take appropriate leave at the time of birth or adoption (including surrogacy).

At present there is no legal right to parental leave of any kind for people in elected public office. This applies to MPs as well as councillors. Currently policies can only be implemented on a voluntary basis.

The objective of the Councillor Parental Leave Policy is to ensure that insofar as possible councillors are able to take appropriate leave at the time of birth or adoption (including surrogacy), that both parents are able to take leave, we have a more family friendly environment for councillors and that reasonable and adequate arrangements are in place to provide cover for portfolio-holders and others in receipt of Special Responsibility Allowances (SRA) during any period of leave taken.

The challenge

Although an ongoing issue, recent analysis by the Fawcett Society indicated that female councillor representation in local government was at a relative standstill, with only a third of candidates for 2021 being female [1], demonstrating a continuation of similar figures from previous analysis in 2019 and 2017. Whilst this Policy is aimed at the issue of parental leave, it is also intended to enable people of varying ages and/or backgrounds to become councillors and to aid in the retention of experienced councillors who might otherwise feel induced to give up their position upon becoming a parent.

Previous analysis found that just 8 per cent of councils have a ‘maternity’ policy in place for their senior cabinet-level councillors. Only 7 per cent of councils have a ‘maternity’ policy in place that covered other councillor roles. There have been informal comments during 2021 that legislation may be introduced to provide such rights for parental leave to local councillors; however, this may not materialise for some time and North Hertfordshire Council took the decision to progress with a policy regardless.

The solution

Councillors at North Hertfordshire raised the issue of councillor parental leave and asked officers to explore options for introducing a policy. A policy based on the LGA Labour Group promoted policy for councils was drafted with some variances to allow for local modifications. The Policy was consulted on and drew cross party support at the council meeting where it was unanimously approved.

The Policy provides for up to six months and a further six months for councillors for maternity, paternity and adoption (including surrogacy) leave and that was brought in from September 2021. It also covers the s85 LGA 1972, six months rule – so no further full council authorisation is required if a councillor wishes to go beyond six months.

It is hoped improved provision for new parents will contribute towards increasing the diversity of experience, age and background of local authority councillors. It will also assist with retaining experienced councillors – particularly women – and making public office more accessible to individuals who might otherwise feel excluded from it.

The impact

The Policy was introduced in September 2021 and is yet to be used. The potential test will come after the elections in May 2022 onwards.

How is the new approach being sustained?

North Hertfordshire endorsed the new Policy in a press release when approved and continue to promote to all councillors, particularly at election time and through new councillor induction.

Lessons learned

Don’t wait until formal legislation is passed on this issue – develop your own council policy. The LGA Labour Group's guide 'Parental leave policy for councils' is a useful template.

[1] A third of councillors at North Hertfordshire are female and at the time of writing, all group leaders were female.