This week's Councillor Column is written by Helensburgh Central councillor Graham Hardie and looks at the work he, and others, are doing to try and lower the barriers to people standing for election as a councillor across Scotland.

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Equality, diversity and representation are key concerns for many of us in elected office.

Membership of a council should reflect the community it serves but too often this is not the case. In Scotland, for instance, women make up 29 per cent of councillors but 52 per cent of the population. Others with protected characteristics are also heavily under-represented.

I am part of a ‘Barriers to Elected Office’ special interest group formed by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) to help address this issue.

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This is a nominated cross-party group that considers and acts upon evidence and opinion from elected members and key partners on barriers that prevent under-represented groups taking up and sustaining elected office.

The Barriers to Elected Office Special group has developed an action plan focused on promoting local politics as an opportunity to influence how our communities are run; improving terms and conditions for councillors; improving day to day experiences within councils; and developing support networks.

An example of our work was the recent production of Family Leave Guidance for Councillors, which was agreed by council leaders and circulated to all Scottish Councils for voluntary adoption.

As a result we successfully negotiated with the Scottish Government to amend legislation in order to ensure that all councillors that require a leave of absence can receive appropriate remuneration.

At present, elected members have no legal right to parental leave of any kind, and our group has recognised that this might discourage people from standing for election or councillors starting a family without having to leave their post.

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Thus, Family Leave Guidance represents a big step forward.

We have also attended hundreds of events encouraging women to follow their own political pathway. We have launched an online hub to provide peer support for elected members and are undertaking work to support councillor safety.

We have also launched an ‘Engaging Young People in Local Democracy’ toolkit targeted at the youth work sector to encourage young people to consider standing for elected office and find out more about the workings of local government.

Seeking to promote equality of representation in local government is now a key issue and policy in our democracy.

If you are thinking of standing or finding out more about local government, I strongly encourage you to take your next step.

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