Combined authority scrutiny and gender balance

Posted on 23/06/2017 by Ed Hammond.

There was another election not so long ago; the one for combined authority mayors. While the Westminster result was a broadly positive one for gender balance (the number of female MPs breaking the 200 barrier for the first time), the Mayoral election was less inspiring. No female metro Mayors – and Mayoral Cabinets predominantly (in some cases exclusively) made up of men. This rightly received the appropriate shocked reaction.

We were interested to see if the situation was replicated for those holding Mayors and combined authorities to account. Combined authority overview and scrutiny committees are comprised of individuals nominated by individual councils, and although it is technically the combined authority who rubberstamps their appointment, it is doubtful whether a single person (or people) are looking at the gender balance of these committees.

The good news is that gender balance of CA OSCs is better than gender balance on the executive side, which wasn’t that hard to achieve. The bad news is that the comparison does flatter the scrutiny committees – representation of women is in instances some significant way below 50% (and in one case, the OSC has no women on it at all).

Overall, there’s a one-third/two-third split.







There are only six CA OSCs – it’s perhaps unfair to single them out to illustrate what is really a far bigger problem for the sector. But it does throw that problem into sharp relief. These are brand new bodies – authorities could have worked together to take gender balance seriously. But they either chose not to or (more likely) the issue was not even mentioned.

I am personally in favour of quotas and “positive discrimination” (which is an awkward and imprecise term for rebalancing the systemic advantages that men enjoy in the public sphere). I don’t think that councils and CAs should be “aiming” for 50% gender balance on their committees (or better – why stop at 50%?) – they should be doing it now. The appointment to these new bodies was an opportunity to do that. That opportunity has been missed, this year. I hope it’s grasped in 2018.


About the Author: Ed Hammond

Ed leads CfGS's work on devolution, transformation and on support to councils and other public bodies on governance and accountability.