Our sector-led improvement offer includes a series of programmes, campaigns and toolkits to help our membership encourage and support women, and those from other underrepresented groups, to run for political office.
- Councillors are experiencing increasing online intimidation, abuse and threats against them, which in turn can prevent elected members from representing the communities they serve, prevent individuals from standing for election and undermine public trust in democratic processes. These harmful behaviours – whether occurring towards, between or by elected members – are entirely unacceptable.
- Women, those from BAME groups, members of our LGBT+ community and those with disabilities are being particularly targeted, and the current police advice to remove their social media presence curtails the ability of these candidates to campaign using this platform and to engage effectively with residents once they are elected.
- Councils tell us that the severity of the abuse and intimidation directed at those at in public life acts as a barrier to standing as a councillor or taking on responsibilities as a cabinet member. Online abuse constitutes another barrier to women standing for election and remaining in office. This is demonstrated by the fact that according to the Fawcett Society, only 35 per cent of councillors are women.
- In response to growing concerns about the impact of the level of public intimidation and toxicity of debate, particularly at a local level, the LGA is working closely with WLGA, COSLA and NILGA to coordinate a programme of work entitled Civility in public life.
- This programme of work includes a councillor’s guide to handling intimidation, which is currently being updated to include further detail on online harassment, and a set of resources for local councillors on digital citizenship, including a model rules of engagement and top tips on how to tackle online abuse and includes guidance around dealing with misinformation and smear campaigns.
- While there are steps councillors can take to protect themselves from harassment, it is important that we recognise responsibility lies with the perpetrator and identify ways to stop harassment happening in the first place. Educating people about digital citizenship, including at school, is a helpful step. Police also need the resources and powers to address online harassment in the same way as offline abuse is tackled. To help improve the situation, we are recommending that a new criminal offence for intimidating a person in public office be bought forward.
While more women are choosing to become councillors, there is still more work to do. Our sector-led improvement offer includes a series of programmes, campaigns and toolkits to help our membership encourage and support women, and those from other underrepresented groups, to run for political office.
Civility in public life
There are growing concerns about the impact an increasing level of public intimidation and toxicity of debate is having on our country’s democratic processes. Reports from our members indicate that there is not a consistent response from the police across the country and that there is confusion about reporting, support, legislation and impacts for our society and democracy. In response, the LGA is working closely with WLGA, COSLA and NILGA to coordinate a programme of work entitled Civility in public life and in August 2020 agreed the below Joint Statement in support of the programme:
The intimidation and abuse of Councillors, in person or otherwise, undermines democracy; it can prevent elected members from representing the communities they serve, prevent individuals from standing for election and undermine public trust in democratic processes. These harmful behaviours, whether occurring towards, between or by elected members are entirely unacceptable.
Across our four nations COSLA, LGA, NILGA and WLGA commit to promoting Civility in Public Life, positive debate and resultantly supporting the wellbeing of our elected members.’
The purpose of the programme is to address the intimidation of local government members and officers; to address standards of public discourse; to address standards of political discourse and behaviour in public office; and to provide support and advice to councils and councillors. The body of work includes:
- LGA's Model Councillor Code of Conduct
All councils are required to have a local Councillor Code of Conduct. In association with key partners and extensive consultation with the sector, the LGA has developed a Model Councillor Code of Conduct, providing a template for councils to adopt in whole and/or with local amendments. The Code was developed in consultation with a range of officer and member stakeholders; the LGA response to the consultation is available on our website.
- Councillors' guide to handling intimidation
Together with WLGA, we have published some practical steps that councillors and councils can take to protect themselves as a person in a public position.
- Digital citizenship
Alongside the WLGA, COSLA and NILGA, we have produced a set of resources for local councillors on digital citizenship, including a model rules of engagement and top tips on how to tackle online abuse.
Twenty-first century councils
The LGA’s toolkit for women, parents and carers Twenty-first century councils, backed by the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government, is aimed at helping those who have other responsibilities, such as looking after children, including those with special needs, caring for an older relative or who want to start a family, to be councillors and represent their communities. It also provides support to women councillors and their families, some of whom have faced intimidation, particularly online, and to encourage and empower them to stand for election again in future.
Be a Councillor
The LGA’s Be a Councillor campaign aims to help councils encourage a more diverse range of people consider standing for election. Councils are encouraged to think about holding prospective councillor events, creating short films to showcase the role of the councillor or sharing our e-Learning to educate on what local government does. Our resources also provide case studies of councillors from a range of backgrounds. A variety of councils across the country are supported to run their own Be a Councillor campaigns.
The LGA has worked with the Parliament Project on several events focused on encouraging more women to stand for election. The Parliament Project is an organisation aimed at inspiring, empowering and encouraging women to run for political office in the UK. At the last LGA’s Women’s Weekender in January 2020, Glitch delivered a session on online safety.