Meghan Gallacher: It’s a struggle for young people to serve as advisors

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Cllr Meghan Gallacher is the leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist group of North Lanarkshire Council and a member of the Scottish Parliament.

Scottish Conservatives are selecting our candidates for next year’s local government elections. Our council groups have had five successful years, with conservative administrations winning the council of the year and our opposition groups winning seats in areas that are not traditionally conservative. As advisors, we have a lot to be proud of – and the new cohort elected next May can build on the foundations laid by their predecessors.

I will not lead the North Lanarkshire conservative group in the Council election campaign. I have enjoyed my time serving Motherwell West very much and will always be grateful to the local community who put their trust in me to represent them as a ward councilor. However, this is not my political swan song as I was elected to the Scottish Parliament in May so I will be just as active in my community, simply arguing in another chamber. I can’t wait to hit the streets with my peers to make sure we elect more Conservative councilors in North Lanarkshire than we did in 2017.

Looking around the various conciliar groups, what struck me was the number of young conservatives who announced that they did not want re-election. Councilors such as Baille Thornton, who served on Glasgow City Council and Edinburgh Councilor Nick Cook, first elected in 2012, will represent a huge loss to their local communities. While this is not an isolated issue for Conservatives, we need to understand the challenges young people face during their tenure and what we can do as a party to maintain and increase the number of young Conservatives running for election.

Interestingly, many of Scotland’s young conservative councilors saw changes in personal circumstances, job opportunities, and work-life balance as reasons to quit. My concern is that if we don’t look at the way councils do business, we won’t be able to attract the next generation of conservatives who will stand up for their communities against the Scottish SNP government and their austerity program.

Being a counselor in Scotland is a full-time job, given the number of committees they should attend, the community groups they work with, and the amount of time they spend in their ward. The truth is that many advisers have to take on a second job to make their role sustainable, as their basic income is £ 18.604. The problem with trying to keep two jobs is that many councils run errand activities in the mornings and early afternoons, which narrows the job options available to counselors who cannot afford to live on a salary. If a councilor was already employed prior to the election, this could reduce the opportunities for progression within the main workplace. Having two jobs can also have a negative impact on home life which could inevitably lead to the decision not to reapply.

A survey of Scottish counselors conducted by Improvement Service supports these claims with the average age of counselors of 53, and the majority of respondents (52.2%) had additional employment. With councilors specifying that they spend, on average, between 26-30 hours per week conducting Council affairs, plus 21-40 hours of additional work, you can see where the struggle between work-life balance begins. .

Unlike other jobs, there are no ladder opportunities for councilors unless your party forms the administration. Therefore, if a young person is offered a job promotion in the other job, they may need to consider this in place of the privilege of serving their community. I’m sure this wouldn’t be a decision anyone would take lightly, but the reasons for doing so are understandable.

I started my political journey at the age of 25 and although I will always encourage young people to consider becoming a councilor, as a newly elected MSP, I will campaign for change in our local authorities to remove these barriers for young people. This is something that has already been raised during the local government committee in Holyrood and it was reassuring to see all parties present recognize that we need to make changes to allow younger people the opportunity to become a civil servant.

Remuneration is one of the areas MSPs need to look at, but we also need to look at the councilor’s role and break it down, to ensure young people understand the hard work it entails. Finally, we need to raise the issue of work-life balance. I remain unconvinced that councils make running for elections attractive to younger people – and they have to undertake work to ensure that the House is representative of the electorate.

Despite the resignations of the young Conservative councilors, I know that more will be presented next year and I am comforted that we will have representation from all age groups. But we can and must do more – and this will be one of my priorities as an MSP, working alongside my fellow advisors.

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