LOCAL Government minister Leighton Andrews has said more needs to be done to encourage a diverse range of candidates to stand for election so that councils better reflect the electorate.

Young people are often accused of being disinterested or disengaged with politics but without their voices, local authorities will remain an arena for the retired.

Last week, the Welsh Government held an event to celebrate 'Diversity Champions' in Cardiff Bay, with Mr Andrews highlighting the need for councils to improve their diversity.

He said: "The 2012 survey of candidates and elected councillors at local elections showed the majority of councillors to be over 60, just under three-quarters to be male, 99 per cent white and only 31 per cent in full or part-time employment.

“Councils benefit from having men and women of all ages, ethnicities, social classes and backgrounds representing their communities. We need the council chambers of Wales to reflect the population of Wales in all its diversity."

Twenty-six-year-old Torfaen councillor David Daniels was one of the Diversity Champions invited to the event and is passionate about getting young people involved in local government.

He said: "Politics is a good area to get into if you want to stay feeling young. With an average age of 60, councils across Wales are overwhelmingly dominated by one demographic. This is not good for democracy.

"Yes, experience is essential, but a healthy measure of representation is what makes good government. Without representation, people get forgotten about.

"Young people in particular are woefully under-represented in local government."

Mr Daniels said the 2012 survey of candidates also shows that people aged 18 to 39 made up only 6.8 per cent of those standing for election, with candidates aged 18 to 39, making up just 2.1 per cent.

He added: "I was fortunate in that I received a great deal of encouragement and support from the local Labour party, but I'm all too aware that this might not be the case for others.

"With or without political affiliation, young people should be encouraged to stand, and should receive all the help they need to do so.

"Civics need to be taught in schools. Young people should be given the opportunity to understand what services their local council provides for them, what devolved powers Welsh Government holds, and how it differs from UK Parliament."

Islwyn MP Chris Evans, 38, joined the Labour Party at the age of 15 and stood as a councillor at the age of 21.

He said: "It is absolutely vital for democracy that young people are engaged in politics. If their voices are not heard then they will not be represented.

"I would encourage any young person with an interest in politics to get involved with their school council or student union to experience democracy first-hand.

"There is always more that can be done to get young people inspired by the political process and politicians certainly have a role to play. I regularly speak at schools and colleges about my job and the work that we do in Parliament."

Gwent's youngest councillor is Jessica Crook, who was elected to represent The Elms ward in Monmouthshire at the age of 18 two years ago.

Miss Crook, a politics student at Swansea University, previously said she got involved in politics when she was an A-level student at Wyedean School, and later worked as an intern in the office of Jessica Morden MP.

Mr Andrews also encouraged political parties to do their bit to bring young people into politics.

A Welsh Liberal Democrat spokesman said the party has a strong young wing, IR Cymru, that provides advice to young people considering standing for election.

He said: "It is absolutely vital that elected officials are representative of society. There is no doubt that Wales needs more young people involved in politics.

“Unlike other parties, our youth wing has real say over the future of our party. Only last month, in exchange for supporting the Welsh Government’s budget, we secured a Youth Travellers Concessionary Fare Scheme’ for 16-18 year olds. This policy was both developed and promoted by IR Cymru.

“However, we recognise that there is always more we can do. As a party we will continue to look for new ways that we can encourage young people to stand for elections.”

Welsh Labour has Welsh Labour Students groups in university towns and cities across Wales as well as Welsh Young Labour groups in constituencies.

The organisations hold training and social events to get young people engaged and a mentoring scheme, where young councillors mentor young members interested in standing so they get an idea of what to expect.

The Conservative Party also has a movement for under 30s, Conservative Future, and Plaid Cymru hopes its Youth Plaid Cymru group will encourage Welsh young people to "change our country for the good".

Mr Andrews added: "Local authorities and political parties must work harder to encourage more diverse candidates at local elections and make local authorities more flexible and supportive places to work.

“But this enthusiasm and commitment must result in action. Achieving diversity of representation in our councils which reflects our local communities will need action from us all as individuals, our parties and local authorities across Wales."