People become Councillors for many different reasons, they might be passionate about a local issue, or maybe want to be involved in improving the lives of people around them. Whatever the reason, being a Councillor is a great way to make a difference and can be done by just about anyone; there is no ‘Councillor type’, just ordinary, everyday people – people like you.
There are roughly 20,000 elected Councillors in England; each representing their local community, all with their own reason for doing so. You could be one of them. It might be the state of the park, community centre or school that you think needs to change in your local area. Or perhaps you want the opportunity to do something worthwhile and rewarding to help your local community.
What do Councillors do?
Councillors are the people who are elected to a Council to represent their local community. They represent a geographical area, known as a ward, and usually serve a four-year term.
The role of Councillor does not have a clear job description, and each individual’s role will vary depending on their level of commitment. However, there are rules to guide Councillors as to what they can and should, do.
Councillors have three main areas of work:
* Decision making. Through attending meetings and committees with other elected Councillors, they decide which activities to support, where money should be spent, what services should be delivered and what policies should be implemented.
* Monitoring. Councillors make sure that their decisions lead to efficient and effective services by keeping an eye on how well things are working.
* Getting involved locally. As local representatives, Councillors have responsibilities towards their constituents and local organisations. This often depends on what the Councillor wants to achieve and how much time is available.
The day to day work of a Councillor may include:
* going to meetings of local organisations such as tenants’ associations;
* going to meetings of bodies that affect the wider community, such as the Police, Highways Authority, schools and colleges;
* taking up issues on behalf of members of the public, such as making representations to the District or Borough Council;
* running a surgery for residents to bring up issues; and
* meeting with individual residents in their own homes.
A Council is made up of Councillors and Officers. The Officers are the people who work for the Council. While Councillors focus on results and actions (what will actually happen), the Officer’s role is to actually make those things happen.
The Councillor’s role is to decide on Council policies and actions to be taken. The role of the Town Clerk and his officers is to carry out the policy and implement decisions.
Officers also provide support and assistance to Councillors, and can help with casework.
Who can be a Councillor?
Almost anyone can be a Councillor, as long as they:
1. are British, or a citizen of the Commonwealth or the European Union
2. are 18 years of age or over
3. are registered to vote in the area or have lived, worked or owned a property there for at least 12 months before an election
4. do not work for the Council they wish to be a Councillor for
5. do not work in a politically restricted post
6. are not bankrupt or have surcharges in excess of £2,000
7. have not served a prison sentence of three months or more in the five years before an election
8. have not been disqualified under any legislation relating to corrupt or illegal practices
What else do potential Councillors need to know?
Being a Councillor does not destroy your private and social life. Most Councillors estimate that their duties occupy them for about three hours a week. Obviously there are some Councillors who spend more time than this, and some less, but in the main, being a Councillor is an enjoyable way of contributing to your community and helping to make it a better place to live and work.
Many Councillors also have a ‘day job’ – a full time career they need to keep while serving as a Councillor. It is a good idea to have a discussion with your employer about what it could involve. By law, your employer must allow you to take a reasonable amount of time off during working hours to perform your duties as a Councillor – the amount of time will depend on your responsibilities and the effect of your absence on your employer’s business.
Decide from the start how available you want to be to your residents. There’s no right or wrong way of doing this, but be consistent so that people understand how you work.
All Councils provide an induction and training for new Councillors on many aspects of the job. Stowmarket Councillors do not receive a salary but can be paid an allowance for expenses incurred.
Potential Stowmarket Councillors can find out about the various functions of the Council on this website.