Who would be a town councillor?
Date Added: 17/03/2014
Sandy Town Council Mayor, Susan Sutton, writes about the pitfalls and the responsibility of becoming a councillor.
"We are again in the circumstance of a vacancy for a Councillor for Sandy Town Council. Andy Maycock has stepped down somewhat disillusioned with what he sees as lack of progress and personally not being able to support Council decisions. I can understand his frustration as there is a list of priorities which we all wish could have happened already. Unfortunately STC does not work alone, we do have to work with other authorities and organisations in order to achieve our own aims. We would love to have opened a new allotment site in the town, but we are waiting for CBC to negotiate on its land holdings. We want to see action on the speed and access issues on the A1, but we have to negotiate with CBC and Highways. We tried very hard to ensure that the money from Central Government was passed to us, but CBC stood in the way. We would love to see a thriving market, but this needs the public to support it to make it viable for the existing and potentially new stallholders. These are just a few issues that can take up a lot of time and discussion by our staff as well as Councillors.
Like all organisations and committees we have those who put in a lot of time attending meetings, helping to prepare papers and reports, meet with the public and convey their opinions at meetings, take time to understand and research issues, and most importantly speak up and vote. Unfortunately there are also those who for whatever reason don’t have time to prepare for meetings, aren’t able to attend as many as they should, don’t feel confident to speak up as much as they could and are therefore reluctant to vote on crucial issues. This does leave the work and decisions to a relative few – which in itself is not satisfactory and can be another source of frustration. However, sometimes it doesn’t matter how much time and effort you put into the role there are always some members of the public who don’t hear or see what you do and think we get paid for doing nothing!
It can also be quite intrusive on your personal life, especially if you are members of local organisations or employed by local businesses. You and your partner, are required to declare all your personal and financial interests on a legal document which is then put on-line by the local authorities. These interests can be seen by the general public and are taken into account when issues are discussed at meetings. We have to be very careful not to appear biased towards those groups we support and frequently have to leave the room if there could be any personal financial implications.
These difficulties are not just an issue for Sandy Town Council, these are problems for all Councils – parish, town, and principal authorities. Everyone wants to encourage a wider range of people to stand for election but the same problems come up time and time again – its a big commitment and one not to be taken lightly.
So if you were considering applying to be a Town Councillor, perhaps you should read the following job description.
• To serve the whole of the electorate – not just your ward.
• To advocate the town, its businesses and organisations*.
• To be prepared to chair meetings
• To read and prepare for Council meetings.
• To attend meetings and workshops day and evening.
• To speak at Council meetings and vote.
• To be unbiased during Council debates.
• To support the Councils decisions – even if you voted against.
• To deal with daily correspondence, emails, and phone calls from Council staff, councillors and members of the public.
• To support the Council staff in their duties.
• To support Council’s fundraising activities and events.
• To support the Mayor and civic events.
• Wisdom of Solomon
• Hide of a rhinoceros
• Foresight (hindsight is too late)
• Patience and determination
• Ability to deal with opposing views
• Detailed knowledge of every aspect of Central Beds Council (because the councils duties get mixed up).
Issues to consider
• You need to declare all your personal and financial interests to the world.
• Your partner needs to do the same.
• Your role isn’t just for Council meetings, the public expect your attention all day every day.
• How much time you can give to preparing for and attending Council meetings.
• Unless you are the Mayor, you are restricted in what you can say in public and to the press on Council decisions.
• You have to be mindful of your opinion on a wide range of issues, not just Council business.
• *You are restricted in what support you can advocate for the business and organisations you are members of during Council debates.
• Everyone expects you to agree with them – even though their neighbour has an opposing view.
• Support of family as being a Councillor does intrude into your personal life."