Following the last local government elections four years ago, just 28 per cent of councillors in Wales were women. The picture on other protected characteristics such as race, ethnicity, disability and representation from the LGBTQ+ community was also dire, although we lack the data to pinpoint exactly how bad this was.

In the four years since then, not much has changed. Despite work from the WLGA and working groups from Welsh Government, it is likely we’ll go into the next elections in May 2022 not much better off.

The reality is that without specific and ambitious interventions diversity in Welsh local government will continue to be far behind where it should be. We only have to look to the Senedd, which has fared much better in terms of gender diversity due to the use of positive action, to see what a difference these kind of measures can make.

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That’s why it was so welcome to see Monmouthshire County Council unanimously vote last Thursday to introduce a target committing all political groups to aim for 50% female councillors next May.

The leader of the council, Councillor Richard John, wrote last week in Gwydir that: “The general image of local government in Wales is of white men over the age of 65.  No council in Wales has ever achieved gender parity.  In Blaenau Gwent, there are only five female councillors, four women in Merthyr Tydfil and on Anglesey, just three women on the entire council.  Local government has existed in various forms in Wales since the Roman invasion in 47AD.  To have five more women on your council now than you would have had 2,000 years ago is not progress”.

This quote sums up why it is so vital that councils and parties take strong action now ahead of next year’s election and why the step that Monmouthshire has taken is in the right direction.

It will be interesting to see how each political group in the authority takes steps to reaching this target and how this can be approached with an intersectional lens. We need to see diversity improve on all measures across a broad range of characteristics. Diversity won’t be achieved if only white, heterosexual, middle class, non- disabled women and men are encouraged to step forward.

It is undeniable that other councils need to also take action like this ahead of next year’s election in the absence of statutory quotas. If any local authority or political group thinks they’re doing enough on diversity and don’t need to be taking further action before next May they are sadly mistaken.

ERS Cymru is part of Diverse 50:50, a campaign to increase diversity in the Senedd and Welsh local government, alongside WEN Wales, EYST and Race Council Cymru. We’ve long been calling for specific measures to improve representation in our political institutions, such as the introduction of measures to collect and publish data around diversity, plans from each of the parties and ultimately diversity and gender quotas.

If next year’s elections don’t see authorities grasping the nettle and introducing strong measures that are effective then we need to have a long and hard look at whether it is time to put in place statutory quotas that guarantee more diversity in our local authorities.

Jess Blair is director of the Electoral Reform Society Cymru.