Bid to change name of council chairman role to chair is unsuccessful

Lib Dem councillor Sarah Osborne
Lib Dem councillor Sarah Osborne

A bid to rename the title of chairman of East Sussex County Council to improve inclusion and gender equality has been unsuccessful.

Lib Dem Sarah Osborne suggested the terms chair and vice-chair be used at County Hall instead.

But a counter proposal by the Conservatives to allow each individual office holder to choose how they are addressed was approved on Tuesday (May 15).

Cllr Osborne (LDem, Ouse Valley West and Downs) argued that her proposals ‘would send a clear message that the role is open to women as well as men’.

She suggested by using the male suffix the title gives the impression it is only meant for men.

She added: “If we use non-gendered words most of the time we begin to see people and professions as non-gendered too.”

Angharad Davies (Con, Northern Rother), who proposed the Tory amendment, said: “Women only want one thing, to be treated equally.

“I propose that a woman given a chairmanship can self-decide how she wants to be addressed.”

Matthew Beaver (Con Hastings - Maze Hill and West St Leonards), who seconded her amendment, added: “By imposing a view that the person sits in the chair is forever called the chair is limiting individual choice.”

But Cllr Osborne responded: “It’s about what outside people see, so yes I want to remove that personal choice because of the message it sends to young women and girls.”

Roy Galley (Con, Maresfield and Buxted) said: “I think we can all agree that we do not want to have gender specific titles. I think it’s right we should be inclusive and we should not have this idea that only a man can do one job and a woman can do.”

But he added: “A chair is a piece of furniture and an inanimate object and every time that word is used in this room and elsewhere I feel not only that it’s impersonal it’s actually rude.

“So can we please find another term that will work. I do not know whether that’s chairperson, convenor, presiding officer, whatever, we must try and find a term.

Claire Dowling (Con, Uckfield North) agreed, added: “Chair is a label and that is blatantly wrong.”

But Darren Grover (LDem, Newhaven and Bishopstone) pointed out that the council uses the terms chair and vice-chair for scrutiny committees and asked if Cllr Galley was ‘worried he may be confused with a four-legged piece of furniture made of dead wood’.

Trevor Webb (Lab, Hastings - Central St Leonards and Gensing), leader of the Labour group, said he ‘totally disagreed’ with the Conservative amendment.

He suggested councillors had not listened properly to Cllr Osborne when she talked about getting more women involved in the political process, something he widened out to BAME groups and people with disabilities.

The gender balance at County Hall, currently 42 male councillors to eight female councillors was raised by David Tutt (LDem, Eastbourne - St Anthony’s), leader of the Lib Dem group.

He added: “If you have got young women saying isn’t that a job only a man can have, if that’s their perception, isn’t it important that we actually recognise that and make a change that reflects the opportunity that’s available to all?”

Keith Glazier (Con, Rye and Eastern Rother), leader of the county council, said: “I think there is a lot more we can do and would support anything councillors can do to get more women involved in politics. I do not think this is the thing that is stopping most of them.”

Michael Ensor (Con, Bexhill North) who finished his term as chairman at the start of the meeting, described a recent trip to France where each local department has a president and joked whether they should instead have a president of East Sussex County Council.