Bedford councillors have expressed their surprise that consultation for a report on parental leave for councillors did not involve elected members – including two that recently had additions to their families.
Currently, people in elected public office do not have a legal right to parental leave of any kind. This means that such policies can only be implemented on a voluntary basis.
There is the added complication of the legal requirement for a councillor to attend at least one meeting of the authority, or one of its committees or sub-committees, every six months.
A report setting out how to address maternity, paternity and adoption leave for councillors was discussed at last night’s (Tuesday, January 11) General Purposes Committee.
Cllr Colleen Atkins (Labour, Harpur Ward) said: “I’m really pleased to see that this has progressed from the time that former Cllr Jade Uko brought this to council.
“I’m really pleased that a policy has been started, and I think that is where we are, that it’s been started.
“Because this is more relevant to an employee than to a councillor, and councillors aren’t employees,” she explained.
Cllr Atkins said the options are to adopt the document as an interim measure, which wasn’t her preference, or ask that it is brought back after being made more relevant to councillors, and following a consultation with councillors.
“We have had two councillors in the past year who have been in these circumstances, but they haven’t been consulted,” she said.
“I think it’s very necessary that councillors are involved in this.”
Cllr Louise Jackson (Labour, Harpur Ward), who was subbing for councillor Meader, told the committee that she seconded former councillor Uko’s motion in 2019, and that she thought the policy was already in place.
“I think it was a surprise to all of us that nothing had happened in all of that time,” she said.
“It’s really important that we have a policy, but it must be a policy that is appropriate to councillors.”
Cllr Henry Vann (LibDems, De Parys Ward) who was one of the councillors “implicitly named” told the committee that the policy needs to recognise casework, committee work, and other council issues.
Cllr Tom Wootton (Conservative, Wyboston Ward) said the report didn’t face the heavy burden some councillors face with parish council meetings.
“I have seven, and most of them meet monthly, some meet bi-monthly, some meet once every three months.
“We’re asking colleagues and groups to stand in and go for us, it needs something in the policy to look at that because that is a heavy burden for people to face.
“And you get quite a bit of criticism from parish councils who really don’t seem to understand that you have other things on your mind and to do,” he added.
Committee chair, Cllr Christine McHugh (LibDems, Goldington Ward) said that due to the need to give notice to take the leave, she didn’t agree with the policy’s Equalities Impact statement that it would have a positive impact for councillors.
“Because if you didn’t invoke this leave, if the leave were in place and you didn’t invoke it, you would receive your allowances.
“You would have to attend one meeting in six months and you wouldn’t have to give notice to dip in and dip out.
“With the policy in place, the same happens, except you have to give notice. So it’s a lot more cumbersome,” she said.
It was agreed that the policy should come back to the committee with changes that address its concerns, with the target being the March meeting.
by John Guinn
Local Democracy Reporter