Calls to ‘sex up’ Cambridgeshire parish council roles

Cllr Peter Topping, former leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council.

Cllr Peter Topping, former leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council. - Credit: Archant

The job of a parish councillor is not always the most glamorous one – but now there are calls for the job to be “sexed up” in order to attract more people to the role.

Parish councillors are often the first point of contact for many people looking for help from their local representatives in government.

They take care of many of the smaller, but essential, jobs in the day to day running of communities.

Whether maintaining the village green or war memorial, or commenting on planning applications, parish councillors have a hand in many public affairs.

But there is concern that not enough people are being attracted to the job.

Yesterday, district councillor Peter Topping – who represents Thriplow and Heathfield as part of his Whittlesford seat and is the former leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council – said more needed to be done to get people to think about becoming parish councillors.

He said parish councils suffered from an image problem, asking whether the role could be “sexed up” to attract more people.

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“I think there is a perception they are too obsessed with the small things,” said Councillor Topping.

“We all know that is not the case.”

Mr Topping said people think parish councils “debate what colour to paint the cricket pavilion”, when their actual roles involve considering planning applications, bidding for and deciding on where money should be spent, putting together road safety schemes and producing neighbourhood plans.

Councillor Bridget Smith, the current leader of SCDC, agreed. She said that “leaving out the sex bit”, more could be done to encourage more people into positions on their local councils.

Speaking on Twitter ‘Trouble up t’Mill Road’ said parish councils “are close to the community, generally provide so much extra which ‘higher’ tiers of govt are unable to do, & are frequently able to muster additional volunteer support.”

Some said parish council positions should be attractive to people from more diverse backgrounds, saying that, because the role is largely voluntary and unpaid, often only “time-rich” people with independent sources of income could participate.

Twitter user ‘Timmy Two wheels’ wrote: “I do think it’s important to engage younger people and those from different backgrounds.

“There’s often a good gender balance but most still older, white, middle-class.”