What matters to you in your local area? Is it the state of the local park, the need for more activities for young people, improving services for older people, making the roads safer or ensuring that local businesses can thrive? Whatever needs changing in your neighbourhood, you could be just the person to change it by becoming a local councillor.
What do councillors do?
Councillors are elected to the local council to represent their local community, so they must either live or work in the area. Becoming a councillor is both a rewarding and privileged form of public service. You will be in a position to make a difference to the quality of other people’s daily lives and prospects.
What is expected of a councillor?
The councillor’s role and responsibilities include:
•representing the ward for which they are elected
•developing and reviewing council policy
•regulatory, quasi-judicial and statutory duties
•community leadership and engagement.
Councillors may also sit on quasi-judicial committees, for example the planning committee, which takes non-political decisions on planning applications. The number and length of these meetings varies from council to council. If you are a member of a political party you will also be expected to attend political group meetings, party training and other events.
Could I be a councillor?
If you care about the area that you live or work in and the issues facing local people, you could be a councillor. Perhaps you enjoy reading the local newspaper and often have a strong opinion on the issues you read about. You may enjoy talking to friends and colleagues about what’s going on in the area. You may feel that certain sections of the community or people who live in a particular neighbourhood are getting a raw deal and need stronger representation. Research tells us that people are most concerned about issues such as crime, schools, transport and the environment. Your local council can make a difference on all these issues and many more, and so can you as a local councillor.
I don’t have the time...
How much time you spend on your duties as a councillor is largely up to you and will depend on the particular commitments you take on. One council estimates the time commitment as ranging from five to 20 hours a week. Your role within the council will determine how much time you spend on council duties. Joining a planning committee, for example, will increase your workload.
You will be expected to attend some council committee meetings, which are often held in the evening so that councillors can attend after work. As with most things in life, what you get back will depend on how much you put in. But remember, the amount of time you give to it is almost entirely up to you.
Becoming a councillor can be the next step.
Who can be a councillor?
The easy answer is almost anyone, as long as you are:
• British or a citizen of the Commonwealth or European Union
• at least 18 years old
• registered to vote in the area or have lived, worked or owned property there for at least 12 months before an election.
You can’t be a councillor if:
•you work for the council you want to be a councillor for, or for another local authority in a politically restricted post
• are the subject of a bankruptcy restrictions order or interim order
• have been sentenced to prison for three months or more (including suspended sentences) during the five years before election day
• have been convicted of a corrupt or illegal practice by an election court.
If you are in any doubt about whether you are eligible to stand as a councillor, you should contact the returning officer in the electoral services department at your local council for advice.
Independent or political?
Over 95 per cent of councillors are members of political parties, but you don’t have to be a member of a political party to stand for election as a councillor. You can either stand as an independent candidate or as a group or party political candidate. The political parties in your local area are already looking for people interested in representing them and will be pleased to hear from you. They will be able to support your election campaign and your work as a councillor.
Don’t worry if you’re not already a party member as they will be able to go through all the options with you. Some parties have special training and encouragement schemes for new candidates. Some places have organised residents’ associations or community groups which put candidates up for election.
Will I get paid for being a councillor?
Councillors do not receive a salary. However, they do get a ‘member’s allowance’ in recognition of their time and expenses incurred while on council business. Each council sets its own rate for members’ allowances, and you can find out more information about allowances from your local council or through its website.
Can I be a councillor and have a job?
Yes. By law if you are working 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 given will depend on your responsibilities and the effect of your absence on your employer’s business. You should discuss this with your employer before making the commitment to stand for election.
What support is available to councillors?
Councils have staff available to provide support and assistance to councillors, regardless of whether you belong to a political party or group. Exactly what facilities you will get depends on the council. Many will provide a computer for your home and some may provide paid-for internet access and an additional telephone line and/or mobile phone. You will be using email and the internet, and many councillors now choose to keep in touch with local people through social networking services such as Twitter and Facebook. You can expect full IT training tailored to suit your needs. Councils also provide induction and training for new councillors on many other aspects of the job.
Once you decide you want to take it further and put yourself forward as a candidate, what’s the next step?
If you are thinking of standing as an independent candidate you can contact your council’s electoral services department to see when elections are next taking place. The Local Government Association’s independent group can also provide information. Your next step as an independent candidate is to start building your profile so that local people know who you are, and working out your position on local ‘hot’ issues such as crime, traffic, the environment and schools. You will need to know what your local council is doing about these issues and how your own opinion differs from the political parties. Nearer election time, as you start going door to door persuading people to vote for you, you will be challenged on your opinions.
Whether you have been selected by a party or are standing as an independent candidate, you must make sure that you are officially nominated as the election date draws nearer. This means getting 10 people to sign your nomination papers (signatories must be registered electors in the ward where you wish to stand). These papers are available from your local council’s democratic services department. You must also give your consent in writing to your nomination. All the necessary documents must be submitted 19 working days before the day of the election.
There are 9,000 local councils (parish and town) in England. Over 16 million people live in communities served by local councils, which is around 25% of the population, and about 80,000 councillors serve on these councils. It is calculated £1 billion is invested in these communities every year. Local councils work to improve community well-being and provide better services at a local level.
Their activities fall into three main categories: representing the local community, delivering services to meet local needs, and improving quality of life and community well being.
Local councils can provide and maintain a variety of important and visible local services including allotments, bridleways, burial grounds, bus shelters, car parks, commons and open spaces, community transport schemes, community safety and crime reduction measures, events and festivals, footpaths, leisure and sports facilities, litter bins, public toilets, planning, street cleaning and lighting, tourism activities, traffic calming measures, village greens and youth projects. These existing powers were recently strengthened by powers contained in the Localism Act including the extension of the "General Power of Competence" to eligible local councils. The central function of the Council, the making of local decisions and policy relevant to the public interest of the parish, is performed at the meetings of the Council.
A Parish Council consists of the chairman and not fewer than five elected Parish councillors, and a quorum of the main council committee is at least one-third of the members, or three members, whichever is the greater. Every meeting is open to the public, who are encouraged to attend, except for those items where the Council formally resolves to exclude the public and press on the grounds that publicity would be prejudicial to the public interest. This would have to be due to the confidential nature of the business. This latter also applies to any sub-committee of the Parish Council.
The term of office of a parish councillor is four years, and council seats are elected by secret ballot. The legislation provides that the number of elected members of a parish council shall not be less than five. Larger parishes may be divided into parish wards, with separate elections for each ward.
A candidate must be at least one of the following:
Candidates must state on their consent for nomination form their qualification for election, which must be at least one of the following:
The chairman of the last council shall remain in office, even if not elected to the newly constituted council, until a new chairman is appointed at the first meeting of the new council.
Where there are an equal number or fewer candidates than there are vacancies, all candidates are elected unopposed, and no poll is taken. Where there are fewer candidates than vacant seats, the parish council has the power to co-opt any person or persons to fill the vacancies. This power, however, may only be exercised if there is a quorum of councillors present and within 35 days of the election.
If the parish council fails to fill the vacancies within this period, the district council may dissolve it and order fresh elections. If there is not a quorum elected the district council must dissolve it and order fresh elections.
Where there are more candidates than vacancies, a poll must be held. Undivided parishes, or multi-member parish wards, hold elections under the bloc vote system.
If a vacancy occurs during the term of a parish council, it may be filled by either election or co-option.
Elections only occur if, following the advertisement of the vacancy for 14 days, 10 electors send a written request to the returning officer. If no request is received, the parish council will be required to fill the vacancies by co-option. The nomination qualifications required of a candidate for co-option are the same as for those for election.
If the number of vacancies on the parish council is such that there is no longer a quorum, the district council may temporarily appoint persons to bring the council up to strength in the interval prior to an election.