Tories accused of ‘jobs for the boys’ after failing to appoint women chairs

BIRD’S EYE VIEW: From the clock tower at Trinity Theatre

The party lost overall control of the authority in the May elections. They managed to wrestle back minority control earlier this month.

Currently 24 councillors at the Town Hall are Tory members and 24 come from opposition parties.

New Council Leader Tom Dawlings has appointed a new Cabinet as well as new chairs and deputy chairs of the Council’s committees.

In making the appointments, just one single female councillor has been chosen to chair one of the Council’s 12 key committees.

She is the long-standing Tory member Cllr Jane March, who sits as a chair on the Investigating and Disciplinary Committee.

Cllr March had also been Deputy Leader until last week. That position has now gone to a male councillor, David Scott.

Of the 48 councillors across all parties on Tunbridge Wells Borough Council [TWBC], just 12 are women [25 per cent].

The Labour and Alliance groups have two out of five councillors who are women [40 per cent].

Five of the Conservative group’s 24 councillors are women [20 per cent]. Three of the Lib Dems 13 councillors are women [23 per cent].

The Labour Borough member for Southborough & High Brooms, Cllr Dianne Hill, who is also the current Mayor of Southborough, raised the issue of a lack of female representation with fellow borough councillors at a full meeting of the authority last week.

She said: “Where are the women? We have a male mayor, a deputy mayor who is male, all the leaders are men, and every chair is a man – where are all the women?”

The councillor currently shares the Southborough mayoralty with deputy Dariel Francis – the first all-female pairing of mayors in the Borough’s history.

Cllr Hill told the Times that offering all male councillors the top positions at the Borough Council ‘smacked of jobs for the boys’.

She said: “We have a female mayor, a female deputy mayor and two female chairs on committees in Southborough, so why can’t Tunbridge Wells Borough Council be as diverse?

“The number of women in the Council has gone down at the local election. There were 15 female councillors and now there are just 12. The Council needs more women on there, especially women with children, but the hours often put people off.

“But it absolutely smacks of jobs for the boys, because the Conservatives still have some very competent female councillors who could sit on one of these committees.

“This is not about Conservative women or Labour women, it is about women!”

The Women’s Equality Party, who didn’t stand in the Borough elections in May in Tunbridge Wells but did contest the London Mayoralty, say the lack of women in local politics was ‘frustrating’.

Tunbridge Wells representative Lizz Orr said: “Not only should our councillors reflect the people they represent, but a diverse council would bring so much more to the table and enrich our community.

“I can’t speak for all councils, but I suspect Tunbridge Wells is pretty typical being populated with elderly, majority male and ‘comfortably off’ councillors.

“Working on a council discriminates against those who do not have the time, as they may be caring for their children or elderly parents. As women do the majority of caring roles, this stops women running for election.”

The new Conservative leader of the Council, Tom Dawlings, has admitted there is a ‘a clear under-representation of women’ on the Borough Council, but said the ‘May election reduced our number of female councillors significantly’.

He added: “Of course, we would like to encourage more women to stand for election to the Council. In determining Committee positions I have sought to place our members where they have indicated a preference and where I assess we maximise the use of their skills.”

Of the five Conservative female councillors on the Council, he said all of them had ‘significant committee responsibilities’.

He continued: “There is no monopoly of virtue in this matter – at the Annual Council meeting when the opposition sought to take on a Chair and Vice Chair of the Overview & Scrutiny Committee, their proposal was for these positions to be held by male Councillors.”


Chairing committees boosts allowances

Sitting as a chair on one of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council’s [TWBC] key committees can add thousands of pounds to a councillor’s basic allowance.

All elected representatives at TWBC get a basic stipend of £5,500, but the leader of the Council receives an additional £19,250 and the other five Cabinet members get an extra £11,000 – four of which are male.

The chair of the planning committee is also entitled to an additional £5,500 and the vice chair £1,320.

The chairs of five other committees – scrutiny, licensing, general purpose, and joint transportation – also receive an extra £1,375.

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