Make it easier for working parents to stand for public office, departing Leeds city councillor says

A Leeds city councillor has said she fears it’s becoming harder for working parents to stand for public office.
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Lisa Mulherin will stand down as an elected member on Leeds City Council next year, having represented the East Ardsley and Robin Hood ward since 2004.

Coun Mulherin said serving residents had been “an honour” and she would “really miss” the role.

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But she added it was “becoming harder” to justify doing the role financially and that the system was “going backwards than forwards” in retaining working people and single parents as elected members.

Coun Lisa Mulherin. (Picture Tony Johnson.)Coun Lisa Mulherin. (Picture Tony Johnson.)
Coun Lisa Mulherin. (Picture Tony Johnson.)

Coun Mulherin said: “It’s been 19 years that have been mostly enjoyable. I started a new job in February 2021 and it’s just very demanding doing a full-time job and being a councillor.

“I feel like I’ve given it my all.

“My kids are getting older now. My son is doing his GCSEs next year and I want to be home a bit more.”

Unlike MPs, local councillors are not paid a salary for their work.

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They do receive an allowance, but the role has traditionally drawn more retired people than workers because of its time-consuming nature.

Leeds has a more diverse age range of councillors than most local authorities, but Coun Mulherin said changes were needed to ensure this remains the case.

In an email informing local Labour branch members of her decision last month she said carrying on full-time was “not sustainable” for her.

Speaking on Tuesday, she added: “I think it’s got much harder compared to when I started.

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“We had a freeze in terms of the allowance for a few years, which was in line with all the other council funding cuts.

“We also had a pension scheme, which we were allowed to pay in to. That’s a significant benefit because it means as a councillor you had a way of looking after your future. But that was abolished in 2014.

“That really has factored in (to my decision). If you’re younger and you’re working full time you can’t be doing that forever.

“The allowance doesn’t enable you to put money into a private pension unless you’ve got someone else paying the bills in the house. I’m a single parent so I don’t.”

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Asked what changes she’d like to see made, Coun Mulherin said: “I absolutely think councillors should be able to pay into a pension.

“That’s fundamental.

“I think if I was looking at becoming a councillor (for the first time) now, I’d think quite differently (to 2003).”

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Councillor Mulherin said aiding the successful campaign to keep Leeds’ children’s heart surgery unit open would be among her proudest achievements as a councillor.

She was also Leeds’ executive member for children and families when the city’s children’s services got its first ‘outstanding’ rating from Ofsted in 2018.

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She said: “It’s an honour being a councillor and I’ve really enjoyed it for the opportunities you get to shape your city.

“I’m Leeds born-and-bred so I’ve loved being able to do stuff for my city and for the region as well.”