Top 10 tips for new Councillors

Luke Akehurst

 

1) If you are in a two or three member ward with other Labour Councillors, working as a team with them is absolutely key. Plan together, share intelligence about what’s going on in the ward, copy them into all your casework and ward-related emails, support each other.

2) Be a team player at the Town Hall too: respect the collective decisions of the Labour Group, take advice from the Chief Whip and experienced Councillors, keep disputes and disagreements private within the group. If you act in a disciplined way and demonstrate solidarity with fellow Labour Councillors, you’ll get it back.

3) Decide early on a couple of achievable changes in your ward – these could be pledges from your election leaflets – and start pushing cabinet members and council officers to make them happen. Escalate your campaign with petitions, questions at council, deputations from residents etc. if just asking doesn’t work. Council are slow moving bureaucracies and it takes time, pressure and persistence to get things done. At the end of four years you need to have made quantifiable and visible changes in your ward.

4) Master being a good ward Councillor before jumping in to taking on jobs and responsibilities in the group or wider council. You have at least four years so pace yourself.

5) Specialise. You can’t be expected to know everything about the council straight away. Pick one council service or policy area and really read yourself into it, as well as learning about it by visiting and speaking to the people delivering and using the service.

6) Start campaigning now for the next election. It is easy to combine campaigning and working for your constituents – put out a post-election leaflet with your advice surgery details and a response coupon for people to raise issues with you, carry on voter ID regularly but with the first question being “I’m one of your Councillors, are there any local issues I can help you with?”.

7) Don’t get Town Hall-itis. It’s easy to think life revolves around the Town Hall, council committees and officers, and to forget your constituents or the local party that got you elected. Don’t allow your diary to be overloaded with internal council meetings. Prioritise campaigning, or meetings where the public are or where you are reporting back to party members.

8) Don’t burn out! Pace yourself and make time for the other things in your life. You want to be a good Councillor in a sustainable way, not municipal superman or woman for a year before making yourself ill or disillusioned through overwork.

9) Remember you are Labour and that in voting for you people were expressing a view about the political priorities they had for their area. Keep your Labour values in mind as the guiding principle for the way you vote in group and in everything you do as a Councillor.

10) It should be enjoyable being a Councillor. There’s nothing better than helping improve life for your local community, or in the current political environment protecting it from the damage the coalition is wreaking. If you stop enjoying being a Councillor, don’t run for re-election, let someone else do it – there are many other ways to serve the Labour Party and your community and municipal life is not for everyone.

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