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Concerns raised about lack of female leaders selected for Town Boards

Early information on Town Boards established to deliver the government’s Long Term Plan for Towns investment indicates that over 90% are chaired by men.

Broader membership of these important structures, which direct investment and set place strategy, features a minority of women (35%).


Early research into the membership of Town Boards across the UK – setup to direct over £1bn of investment from the government’s Long Term Plan for Towns – suggests a systemic problem with diversity, as women are almost wholly absent from the Chair positions that lead these bodies.

Researchers from the Institute of Place Management examined data from 22 Town Boards that have been selected to receive the government's Long Term Plan for Towns investment and found that 96% were chaired by men, with the remaining 4% represented by a female co-Chair. Of the 430 Town Board members represented from the sample, 35% are female and one board was made up exclusively of male members.

Guidance on the establishment of Town Boards, issued by the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, states:

“Town Boards are responsible for developing the Long-Term Plan, working closely with local people. [They] must be chaired by a local community leader or local businessperson. The chair should act as a champion for the town and provide leadership for the Town Board, ensuring it is community-led and embedded within the local area.”

“The independent chair of Long-Term Plan for Town Boards should be invited by the local authority, considering who is best placed to convene partners and is a respected figure in the community with an obvious passion for the place.”

In addition to lack of female representation, the study also identified that there is limited representation of young people, with only four Town Boards providing dedicated space for a youth representative. Gaps in representation were also identified across the three main priorities of the government’s Long Term Plan for Towns investment (Safety and Security; High Streets, Heritage and Regeneration; and Transport and Connectivity).

Responding to these findings, Cathy Parker MBE, Professor of Place Management at the IPM, said,

“It’s clear that more needs to be done to improve representation on these Towns Boards. If places are to provide an offer that is attractive to all, then we need to make sure that a wider range of voices are sat around these board tables contributing to the decision making process.”

"Our figures show that membership of the Institute of Place Management is close to a 50:50 gender split, so we know there is no shortage of highly qualified women working in the place sector. Those shaping Town Boards must make more efforts to reflect this and become inclusive forums that welcome a wide range of people and place professionals."

Findings from Fellows of the Institute of Place Management

Earlier this year, Fellows from the Institute of Place Management convened to discuss these findings and broader issues around town centre regeneration and governance.

This important group of highly qualified individuals working across the public and private sectors highlighted the significant issues that the gender imbalance poses for Towns Boards. Amongst their findings were:

Town boards must ensure they are shaping a future town that caters to the diverse needs of all residents. A thorough examination of inclusivity, encompassing considerations of gender, youth representation, and minority inclusion, is crucial.

The government's mission  of revitalising towns is less likely to be achieved without securing better representation on Town Boards and their Chair positions.

Recruitment strategies should prioritise mixed ‘skill’ and ‘perspective’ matrices based on the strengths available and address any gaps within the board. It is crucial to avoid letting the loudest voice drive interventions, as this is often the case.

The findings of IPM’s initial work confirm Fellows’ experience that Town Boards, and other local governance vehicles, are often staffed by the same people who get shuffled around into the various roles on offer. There is both a lack of diversity and of an innovative and representative process to generate new perspectives.

Speaking about the early research, IPM Fellow Joe Barratt said:

"Whilst this long-term investment into towns across the UK is highly welcomed, we believe the fund will have limited impact if it doesn’t succeed in bringing together a wide range of different voices and perspectives to guide the investment.”

“If we are to see a number of entrepreneurial, creative and forward-looking initiatives to help transform these towns emerge from this fund, then we need to ensure that the partnership at the centre of it is a true reflection of the community of the place it is looking to improve.”

“As a starting point, I’d encourage all Towns Boards to review their gender balance and consider how best to involve as many different perspectives as possible, including at a leadership level”.

The study forms part of an ongoing research effort the IPM is taking into the work of Towns Boards that have been selected to deliver the government’s Long Term Plan for Towns and follows a recent paper that has been published on “Making the Most of High Street Investment” which underlined the need for more effective partnership working across towns following the IPM’s delivery of the High Streets Task Force.



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