Council slams ‘woke nonsense’ bid to replace chairman with gender neutral ‘presiding person’
- South Kesteven council held vote on changing ‘chairman’ to ‘presiding person’
- Councillors accused the proposal of ‘policing language’ and it was voted down
- Labour and other councillors had argued ‘default’ title should not be masculine
The Conservative-run South Kesteven District Council, in South Lincolnshire, had introduced a proposal to change its constitution that would have seen ‘chairman’ replaced with ‘presiding person.’
But critics said the move amounted to ‘policing language’, arguing that the current title projected authority, according to the Local Democracy reporting service.
Labour and Independent members, meanwhile, said changing the name would ‘promote equality’ by ensuring the default title was no longer masculine.
Conservative councillor Helen Crawford, blasted the plans, saying: ‘I don’t like ‘presiding person’. It sounds like I should be a judge with a handkerchief on my head.’
Tory councillor Ben Green branded them ‘woke nonsense’, adding: ‘We should spend half as long talking about the future as we do policing language.’
Several councillors who chair committees agreed with his sentiment, including other female colleagues.
South Kesteven District Council (pictured), in South Lincolnshire, had introduced a proposal to change its constitution that would have seen ‘chairman’ replaced with ‘presiding person’
Tory councillor Ben Green branded them ‘woke nonsense’, adding: ‘We should spend half as long talking about the future as we do policing language.’ Meanwhile, Labour & Co-operative councillor Louise Clack (pictured right) said: ‘The default shouldn’t be chairman. I’m a mother and a daughter of a confident woman, and come from a long line of strong women. ‘The default setting should be universal, not set by men.’
Fury as it’s revealed councils have spent more than £200,000 on woke pedestrian crossings since 2019
By Anna Mikhailova for the Mail on Sunday
Kensington and Chelsea Council spent £43,000 on three ‘creative crossings’ Pictured: Pedestrians using a creative crossing in Kensington designed Tokolo Asao for Japanese House London as part of Creative Kensington High Street initiativ
The Mail on Sunday revealed earlier this month that councils have spent more than £200,000 on woke pedestrian crossings since 2019.
MPs expressed their fury at how taxpayers’ money has been wasted on the ‘ridiculous pet projects’ while frontline services including bin collection are cut.
The £200,000 outlay includes £43,000 splashed out by Kensington and Chelsea Council on three ‘creative crossings’ – including a Japan-themed one – while Richmond Council in South-West London spent £4,400 on a crossing featuring poppies.
In total, 21 local authorities spent £205,084 on what are described as ‘pointless paint jobs’, Freedom of Information data shows.
Last year Bristol City council spent £7,161 repainting a crossing in rainbow colours of the LGBT+ movement at the height of the pandemic – while cutting services and complaining of a £23 million funding gap. Transport for London spent £13,700 on an LGBT crossing in Regent Street that was there for only two months. Disability groups complain that ‘alternative’ crossings make life harder for disabled people.
Sir John Hayes, chairman of the Common Sense Group of Conservative MPs, said: ‘It is the worst sort of indulgence at taxpayers’ expense, and it displaces both attention and money away from the needs of those who have the greatest demands.’
Duncan Simpson, research director at the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: ‘Residents face punishing tax hikes and cutbacks to local services, yet councils are spending precious funds on ridiculous pet projects.’
Kensington and Chelsea Council said ‘local businesses supported the costs’.
Councillor Sue Woolley, also a Conservative, added: ‘I don’t think the title demeans anyone. It adds gravitas, and there is nothing to be ashamed about being a chairman.’
But those pushing for the change said the title favoured men and accused the other side of using the term ‘wokeness’ to halt progress.
Labour & Co-operative councillor Louise Clack said: ‘The default shouldn’t be chairman. I’m a mother and a daughter of a confident woman, and come from a long line of strong women.
‘The default setting should be universal, not set by men.’
Councillor Ashley Baxter, from the Alliance SK party, agreed, adding: ‘All this ‘woke nonsense’ talk is nonsense.
‘It’s often used by people who are afraid of change, and used to stop progress towards equality.
‘People would have described the Sex and Race Discrimination Acts the same way, if that words had been around in the 1970s.’
It comes after a House of Commons committee last month revealed it was looking at setting up a human rights ‘ombudsperson’ to handle complaints made against public authorities.
It is thought to be the first time the term – a ‘woke’ substitute for the word ‘ombudsman’ – had been used for official parliamentary business.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights Committee was examining the case for introducing such an individual, and took evidence from witnesses including the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.
The committee is chaired by Labour MP Harriet Harman, who Tory colleagues accused of pushing through the new term.
‘Oh God. Ombudsper-child surely. Son is a male term,’ one MP told MailOnline.
‘The reality of Harriet is she’s always had this stance form her early days… the right-on causes. She hasn’t really modified that.’
Sources said it wasn’t Ms Harman specifically who drove the decision to use the ‘clunky’ word, but rather a collective verdict within the committee.
It comes after business leaders in March called for the ‘sexist’ and ‘outdated’ term ‘chairman’ to be scrapped for a gender neutral equivalent.
The coalition, led by the British Chambers of Commerce, called on the UK’s official business register, Companies House, to remove any default reference to a company ‘chairman’ in all future references to the head of a business.
The group called for words such as ‘chairman’, ‘policeman’ and ‘fireman’ to all be ‘consigned to the history books’.
It said companies should instead be encouraged to use gender neutral words, such as ‘chair’, over fears that more masculine alternatives could contribute to gender inequality among business chiefs.
The calls were backed by the historic British manufacturing giant Make UK, who had already widely adopted the title ‘chair’, and the Institute of Directors.
But parliamentarians, including Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, rejected the idea.
One source close to Mr Kwarteng told the Telegraph: ‘It requires primary legislation and we have more pressing issues, like supporting businesses through the pandemic and a war on European soil. The priorities here are all mixed up.’
British business leaders have called for the ‘sexist’ and ‘outdated’ term ‘chairman’ to be scrapped and for a gender neutral equivalent to be used instead [File image]
Sarah Howard, the BCC’s chairman, said at the time: ‘It’s a small but very significant alteration that will help break down subconscious bias and send a clear message to future generations that they have an equal role to play in running businesses whatever their gender identity.
‘There is much more that all of us need to do to help address inequality in the business world, and this change would send a clear message on government intent.’
Ms Howard added that many businesses were unaware they could change Companies House’s default draft articles of association, which ordinarily means ‘chairman’ is used rather than ‘chair’.
Dame Judith Hackitt, the chairman of Make UK, insisted that dropping gendered references to chairmen would be a ‘small but positive and symbolic’ move.
She said: ‘This is a welcome and long overdue change which is easy to make and which I hope all businesses across the UK will support.
‘Despite progress in recent years, it remains the case that women are under-represented in the most senior roles across companies.’
And Jonathan Geldart, director general of the IoD, added: ‘The importance of language should not be underestimated.
‘By taking this small step, the Government can ensure that gender neutrality is instilled in new business ventures at their inception.’
Less than half (39 per cent) of board members of FTSE 100 companies were female, per data recorded last month.
Sarah Howard, the BCC’s chairman, previously said: ‘It’s a small but very significant alteration that will help break down subconscious bias and send a clear message to future generations that they have an equal role to play in running businesses whatever their gender identity’
And there are 16 female chairmen recorded on the FTSE 100, while there are 32 included in the FTSE 250.
A spokesman from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: ‘We wholeheartedly support increasing the diversity of business leaders and championing women in business.
‘Companies already have the flexibility to craft their own articles, and to amend their articles as they see fit.’
The news comes as the Tory-run Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council voted in favour of dropping masculine and feminine terms for its senior positions.
Last month, councillor L.J Evans, who put forward the proposal along with Labour councillor Lewis Allison last year, said the changes were ‘a small win for equality’ and ‘not political correctness gone mad’.
The move will see the role of chairman and vice-chairman of committees now being referred to as chair and vice-chair.