A "HOSTILE" environment in local government is contributing to a lack of women leaders within the City Region, a St Helens councillor has said.

Currently, none of the six leaders of the Liverpool City Region authorities are women.

Cllr Jeanie Bell, St Helens Council ward councillor for Newton, said there is no gender balance in local government, and those who have been elected do not have the support to stand as leaders.

“It is something you hear from women, all across the parties, all the time, is that there is no gender balance,” she said.

“It feels like local government is taking longer to catch up to the moves that are being made in national politics to reflect engagement of women and other minority groups.”

Cllr Bell is the women’s officer for St Helens North, constituency Labour party and member of Liverpool City Region Labour women’s forum and Labour women’s network.

She said Labour are taking a number of steps in St Helens to address the issue.

“As the woman’s officer I’m running the training programme over four weeks to try to get local women to think about standing and to think about coming forward,” Cllr Bell said.

“We’re doing peer mentoring. We’re doing everything we can to engage women, and we’re getting some success with that.

“But if politics itself is a hostile environment for women then how do you get women who are politicians to stand for leadership positions?

“Because it can at times feel quite unwelcoming and a little bit hostile.”

Cllr Bell revealed she has also had to face abuse from twitter trolls during her time on St Helens Council.

“You do get it from residents,” she said. “I’ve had comments about my weight.

“I’ve had comments about the way that I look. I’ve had comments about the fact that I’m passive, all that kind of thing.

“You shouldn’t expect it, but you get on with it because you just have to, and you try and challenge it as much as you can.

“I remember doing a piece on the Women’s Institute and someone made a comment saying something like, she doesn’t look like she bakes many cakes, but she looks like she eats plenty of them.

“I just copied the tweet, but a picture of me eating cake and just said, damn right I do, and just tweeted it out.”

Cllr Bell has been involved in politics for four years and is currently into her second term.

She previously worked as a lecturer in St Helens College for eight years.

The Newton councillor said she never experienced the kind of culture that she has seen since entering local politics.

“I’ve worked in quite robust environments,” she said. “I’ve worked in teaching, before that I worked in secure units.

“I’ve worked with units with mental health offenders, units with youth offenders.

“I’ve worked in the community with people displaying offending behaviour and I haven’t come across this.”

She added: “We’re quite lucky in St Helens in that the things that I have seen and witnessed tend to be more old-fashioned comments and ideals.

“It’s not so much about absolute abject discrimination.

“It’s more like you almost put your hands on your head and say, I can’t believe you’ve just said that.

“It’s just something that I’ve not come across at all.”

The former cabinet member believes the qualities that have aided her in previous professions have hindered her as an elected official.

“Every profession I’ve worked in, being vocal and strong and opinionated has always been seen as a positive and it’s how I’ve managed to climb my career ladder,” she said.

“It’s never been a problem, but you almost feel at times that being outspoken and being challenging – I think that should be a positive in politics and it’s what we should be looking to cultivate – but often it just gets you negative attention and you’re seen as a troublemaker and stroppy, and shouty and here she goes moaning again.”

Cllr Bell said she was once “lambasted” and accused of being sexist for speaking about women’s issues.

She also accused colleagues of rolling their eyes when women speak in the chamber.

She said: “It’s quite low level, but it’s that drip, drip, drip, drip that creates that culture of, almost hostility at times.

“It can be uncomfortable at times but if you are going to address that then you need to get more women in.

“Because the more women you get in, the harder it is for that kind of culture to continue and the more challenged people will be who perpetuate that kind of thing.”

The Labour councillor said all political parties need to work with women to encourage them to put themselves forward for leadership and deputy leadership positions.

She believes this will then inspire young women to enter the political realm themselves.

“I think at the moment they feel like they’ve not got a voice and they don’t know how to make that voice heard and it’s about us finding a way for them to have that voice,” she said.

“And for young women, that’s about seeing more women in politics who are vocal and challenging and willing to take the heat a little bit by standing up and saying – I’m not putting up with it anymore.”