Since becoming a Councillor I’ve been meaning to do a blog post like this just to go over some of the things you do on a day-to-day basis as a local Councillor. Not to ‘prove’ that we’re busy and actually do things per se, I think you either trust your Councillor to do the job or you don’t (and vote, or not, accordingly), but just to show the wide range of things you get involved with.
Last week is a fairly typical and wide-ranging week so I thought it would be good to go through it and explain what I was up to!
Monday 11th Feb – Labour Group (Motions)
This is a group meeting of all Labour Councillors. We have one the day before Full Council and also have one a bit before to go over potential motions we may want to put forward for the forthcoming Council meeting.
Here we discuss any issues raised, provide feedback on any draft motions put forward and put ourselves forward to speak if we wish to along with other issues that have come up and need discussion since the last meeting.
12th Feb – Environment Scrutiny (Alternate)
As an alternate, obviously you don’t attend unless requested but you still need to put them in your diary in case a Councillor has to pull out at short notice and you’re needed to fill in. Otherwise a free night is a good night to catch up on casework and also cook dinners to put in the freezer for nights when you’re home late!
13th Feb – Planning, Crag Road Drop-In, Social Care Scrunity (Alternate), Wrose Parish Council, Shipley Labour Branch meeting
A busy day! You often get days like this where you have to work with your ward colleagues to split the meetings between you so you can cover as wide a range of events as possible.
During the day I sat on the Planning Panel, which can last the full day if you have a full agenda. On Planning you act in a quasi-judicial (I think that’s the term) manner. You’re in a semi-legal role and it is not party political. So while the make-up of the panel is always mixed with Councillors from all parties in the area (in this case, Shipley & Keighley) you vote on non-party lines based on the evidence presented to you.
In an odd way this is one of the most influential roles you have as a Councillor, because you’re very aware that your decision will have a direct impact on people, either those who support or have put in the planning application, or those who oppose it. It’s a lot of responsibility!
The Crag Road Drop-In centre runs on Wednesday afternoons so if the Planning Panel finishes early I planned* on heading over to see the people who run it and the people who use it. It gives you a good idea of the issues in your area, let’s people know your name and face so they know they can come to you if they have any issues, and let’s you speak to the people providing the service so you can work together on issues.
Wrose Parish Council is in the evening and clashes with our local Shipley Labour Party Branch meeting, disaster! In these circumstances I chat to my Councillor colleagues in the ward and split the meetings between us based on who has most recently been to either meeting or who has actions outstanding and needs to go again. We have no direct role in the Parish Council but naturally a lot of the issues overlap to a degree and we’re always keen to help out where we can (and vice versa!).
The Branch meeting is a chance to see local members and keep them abreast of what is going on in their area and at the Council and we tend to pop for a pint afterwards for a bit of welcome socialising.
*The snow threw pretty much this entire day off so I didn’t make it to the drop-in sadly and worked from home instead.
14th Feb – Ward Officer meeting
This is an optional meeting we set up to meet with our local Ward Officer to go over the ongoing issues in the area, note progress, tick off completed actions and see what needs to be done to move them on further, as well as look into any new issues that have arisen since our last meeting.
We find these meetings help keep everyone on top of things and working closely with our Ward Officer is invaluable in ensuring we provide the best possible service to our constituents (as cheesy as that sounds!). It also helps the Ward Officer take a cue from us, as the elected representatives for the area, on the direction we’d like to see things being taken if possible, though obviously there is a fair degree of give and take as we try balance the ‘ideal’ situation with the reality on the ground, most often relating to budgets.
It’s Valentine’s Day so we were as quick as we could be so we got home to our loved ones and reminded them we exist!
15th Feb – Nothing!
Friday night is free! A useful time to remind my wife that I do exist and our wedding was not a figment of her imagination.
16th Feb – Speak about being a young Councillor to a Future Candidate’s meeting
I was asked to speak at a Future Candidate’s event on becoming a young councillor, getting into politics and so on. The event was organised to encourage people to consider becoming a councillor so we have a wide range of talented people standing as candidates and becoming councillors over the next few years. There’s not that many of us under 30, let alone under 40 or 50. I think the average age is over 60 these days. l did my level best not to put them off!
Weekend – campaigning, coffee mornings, table top sales etc
Although not listed in my diary for this weekend, broadly weekends are interspersed with campaigning, if the time is right, usually via door knocking or leafleting (our Spring leaflet is not too far away now).
Regardless of whether there is campaigning to be done or not, there are usually a handful (or more!) of community events going on over the weekend we either get invited to or decide to gatecrash*.
The other weekend we visited the Surestart centre on a morning for foster carers to say hello to everyone. As a fairly new Councillor it was good for me to introduce myself to the people who volunteer and run the place too.
Last weekend there was a table top sale to raise funds for the Friends of High Crags school and although we had a Labour Group ‘Away Day‘ (at, er, City Hall!) beforehand we managed to get in before it ended and snaffle ourselves some popcorn (as well as say hello to everyone giving up their time to raise money, obviously).
All in all I’d say that was a fairly typical week as a Councillor. There’s Scrutiny committees that I’m not an alternate for, full council meetings, the Shipley Area Committee, which covers devolved responsibilities to the constituency, more Labour Party meetings than you can shake a stick at and plenty of campaigning in between as well.
Some weeks are busier than others, and I’ve not really gone into the time we spend doing casework, which with the help of Blackberries can at least be done in fits and spurts throughout the day, but hopefully that gives you some sense of what we get up to as your elected servants!
*This is irony. We always make sure we get an invite!