Council looks to approve new parental leave policy

Wirral Council looks set to approve a new policy that would see councillors take parental leave.

The policy was developed following a motion by Cllr Daisy Kenny (pictured) that got unanimous support on 20 March, calling for the council to allow members to take time off following birth or adoption as well as arrangements to be made while a councillor is taking leave.

The average age of councillors in 2022 nationally was 59.5 years old with the proportion of people under 45 being less than 16%. The policy is being brought in in the hopes it will improve diversity and encourage younger people to enter local politics.

The policy will give councillors up to six months leave with an option to extend up to 52 weeks if this is agreed by a full council vote. Councillors would continue to receive their basic allowance of £8,864 as well as any additional allowances for roles such as committee chairs.

Liscard councillor Daisy Kenny spoke at a council constitution and standards committee following the recent birth of her son, seven week old Dexter. She said she was told by a friend when she put herself forward to be councillor she wouldn’t be able to have children and be a councillor.

Following this, she tried to see if there was a parental leave policy for councillors but couldn’t. Cllr Kenny said, “The uncertainty of not knowing if I would be given the flexibility should I be fortunate to get pregnant whilst being a councillor could have easily put me off. Perhaps it has put many of us off in the same situation.”

She added, “If we want to improve the diversity of our representatives and encourage people from all walks of life into local politics, we need policies in place which will protect people in different stages of their lives.”

Cllr Kenny said the new policy would assure any new councillors “they will be given the flexibility and space to return to their seats after taking precious time to focus on their little one.”

The policy received full support from councillors at the committee on 29 September and will now go to a vote by all councillors on 9 October.

At the meeting, Cllr Tom Laing said, “We want to see more women and more diversity as a whole. This policy is particularly important in delivering that.” He proposed that councillors adopted a single approach to parental leave regardless of gender. This was adopted by the committee.

Conservative councillor Tony Cox said, “There are many many barriers to people coming into politics and I’m convinced that having children will be one of them.”

He added, “This policy can only indicate that Wirral is a forward-looking council in actually trying to get people from diverse backgrounds actually on the benches and giving different views which can only lead to better decisions.”

However, Cllr Cox did not believe councillors should be given allowances for being committee chairs or group leaders while taking leave as there were positions chosen by councillors, not the public. The highest allowance a councillor can receive is £24,000 for council leader.

He proposed an amendment to the policy that would only see those on parental leave receive their basic allowance and not any additional allowances. This was lost 5-2.

Cllr Phil Gilchrist said such a decision should be up to the councillor while Cllr Judith Grier argued councillors often had to cut back on their employment to be a councillor and such a move could put them at a financial disadvantage.

She said, “If they then become a parent, they’re not going to get as much income from parental leave from their employer so if you’re not going to allow them to have their special responsibility allowance while they’re on parental leave, you’re not talking about the aims of the policy to open up the ability to represent.”

She added, “You’re putting a barrier to the demographic of that age group unless they happen to be very wealthy so either way you are reducing opportunities.”

Image: Daisy Kenny

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