As a councillor, you will find that much of your time is taken up by contact with the local people. This could be in the form of dealing with complaints or enquiries. Your role will be to listen, explain council policy and make sure that the policy has been carried out fairly according to official procedures.
You will get help and support to deal with your constituency's enquiries and complaints from officers. Legal and democratic services provide practical support to members and officers in service units will always be pleased to discuss with members matters relating to the provision of council services.
As a ward representative, you can represent views and issues associated with the council on constituents' behalf. You could also be representing an individual or family at special appeals.
Your role on the council as a whole is to plan, run, monitor and develop council business. councillors are essential in deciding what is in the public interest in the midst of a range of conflicting issues and views.
As a councillor you will be a member of the council and could also be on the cabinet, an overview & scrutiny committee, or a regulatory committee. You will meet with other councillors from all political groups to debate and approve council business in a formal setting. Most meetings are open to the press and public. There are written rules which govern behaviour and procedures at these meetings and these rules enable councillors to take part effectively.
Councillors as community leaders
Over the course of the next decade a number of changes are likely to occur that will impact on the way that society operates.
Addressing the changes will require strong, local leaders able to listen to their community and bring partners together to implement a shared vision of how they can improve their areas.
As a front line councillor you will have a key role to play in this in representing and leading the communities in your ward, together with working neighbourhood governance arrangements such as area committees.
One of the main ways you can engage with local residents and work with partners to improve life in your Ward is through your area committee.
There are currently six area committees based on groupings of two to three wards.
The committees meet on a regular basis and are chaired by councillors and are a chance for local people to get involved with the decision making process at a local level.
Time involved being a councillor
It is up to you to decide the level of commitment you are able to give to being a councillor. It also depends on your role within the council and the number of duties you decide to take on. It could range from a few hours each week to a few hours each day at busier times. Some of the issues you need to consider are:
- how your role as a councillor will impact on any family and personal relationships. You will need support and understanding as you may be spending a lot of your spare time on council business
- the people you will represent will look to you for help in dealing with their problems. You are likely to receive a lot of post, emails and a great many telephone calls and not every caller will telephone at what you might think is a reasonable hour
- most councillors hold drop-in surgeries. You may spend some of your time visiting constituents at their homes or in the council offices and you may have to meet with officers of the council to help you with any issues
There are usually seven full council meetings each year which you will be expected to attend. These are formal meetings with other council colleagues from all political groups and meetings start at 7pm and can last up to 4 hours, sometimes longer. You will be a member of an overview and scrutiny committee, regulatory committee or the cabinet. Most committee meetings are held in the evenings commencing at 7pm. Your meetings or commitments may not be evenly spread out over the cycle so some weeks you may be out more evenings than others.
The average length of a committee meeting is approximately 2 hours but this time can vary. Many councillors represent the council on one or more outside bodies. Background reading and attendance at the meetings of these bodies does increase the time commitment.
For most of the meetings you attend there will be papers that you will need to read beforehand. These papers can be quite detailed and take time to read and understand.
If you are elected as a chairperson, spokesperson or member of the cabinet, the role can be very demanding as you will take responsibility for the council's multi-million pound expenditure each year.
If you are a member of a political party there will be additional calls on your time to attend political group meetings. Political groups require their members to attend group meetings in advance of council meetings and possibly training events and seminars organised by the political party. However, it is worth remembering that there are lots of officers in the council who will be happy to provide you with briefings and help on specific issues.
Payment for councillor duties
There is no salary for being a councillor, however, you will be paid an allowance to reimburse you for time and expenses incurred whilst on council business.
Every Borough of Poole councillor is entitled to a basic allowance paid into a bank account in 12 monthly instalments, along with expenses related to travelling and subsistence. Some councillors are given an additional allowance to cover any special responsibilities, such as cabinet member, overview and scrutiny chairperson etc. Childcare costs can also be addressed.
Support you will receive if elected
Information to help you deal with ward matters and all other work you will do as a councillor will be provided from officers of the council, but it is most likely that your dedicated contact from Legal and Democratic Services will be helping you and providing guidance. You will be offered full computer facilities for use at home for council business with email and internet access and certain members, for example, chairpersons will be provided with mobile phones.
You will be offered the chance to have your own website pages for publishing information relating to your work as a councillor. You will be able to edit the pages yourself and training for this will be provided.
You will have access to a fully equipped members room and meeting rooms based at the Civic Centre. All rooms have facilities for both formal and informal use, telephones, computers and printers.
Training to perform duties
When you are newly elected there will be an induction training period when you can attend several courses. If you are a member of a political party or other group there could be training and support from your political group.
The training programme provided by the council is decided by the members themselves and will include an opportunity to meet the chief executive, strategic directors and officers within legal and democratic services
A series of induction courses on topics such as:
- members' allowances and support from legal and democratic services
- dealing with constituents' enquiries
- local government finance
- Freedom of Information and Data Protection Acts
- probity and integrity, speaking in public
- ethical conduct for members
- ICT training, website editing
- tour of the borough, Civic Centre, satellite offices, other council buildings
Councillors can also request personal development plans to identify individual training needs. This will be a confidential statement of your skills and training. The plan will help you to recognise and value the skills, knowledge and experience you already have and will help you make informed decisions about your future training and information needs.
There will also be optional training, workshops and seminars and an opportunity to attend seminars organised by other public bodies, local government organisations and other local authorities.
Time off work
If you are working, 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 off will depend upon your responsibilities and the effect of your absence on your employer's business. Clearly, you should discuss this with your employer before making any commitment.