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DURHAM COUNTY COUNCIL: Parental leave policy set for councillors

DURHAM COUNTY COUNCIL: Parental leave policy set for councillors

Image: LDRS

County bosses have approved plans to appoint ‘caretakers’ to fill in for duties while they are on parental leave.

Previously, elected councillors in County Durham had no formal support structures in place to help them cope with the birth of a child or while adopting.

But a new policy for Durham County Council will allow demands on councillors to be eased for up to six months and follow the example of other local authorities in the North East.

“This policy will provide all members with an entitlement to maternity, paternity, shared parental and adoption leave – and not before time,” said Andrea Patterson, cabinet member for corporate services and rural issues.

“New parents need our support, regardless of whether they’re an employee or an elected member, this will help increase the diversity of elected members and bring us into line with [other councils].”

Cllr Patterson was speaking at this week’s (Wednesday, January 20) meeting of Durham County Council, which was held by videolink and broadcast via YouTube.

In council wards represented by just one councillor, another councillor will be appointing to cover it on a ‘caretaking’ basis, while the councillor on leave will still be able to claim any allowances for its duration.

Sunderland City Council agreed to adopt its own parental leave policy for councillors in 2018, followed by Newcastle City Council in 2019.

But despite strong backing for replicating a similar scheme in County Durham, it did not quite achieve unanimous support.

Independent opposition councillor John Shuttleworth said: “When you’re elected to the council, no matter who you are, you have to be there 365 days a year, seven days a week and you have to be accessible and available to everyone.

“The vast majority of people on this council are well past child-bearing age, so I don’t know where this is coming from, it must be tailored to just a few people.

“I’ve spoken against this [previously] and I stand by that].”

Cllr Shuttleworth was criticised for his opposition by Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors, with Cllr Patterson, who formally proposed the scheme adding she was ‘disappointed with [his] outdated and backwards comments’.

Cllr Shuttleworth was one of just three councillors who voted against the policy and a further three who chose to abstain, against 100 who voted in favour.

Words: James Harrison, Local Democracy Reporter

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