County Council debating chamber
County Council debating chamber

A Councillor’s work is multi-faceted. ¬†The most important aspect is communication, because if this is lacking how else can you listen to what your community is telling you and speak on their behalf in order to make improvements within the community? ¬†Therefore, the first step is listening to the community and then telling them how you would represent them if they were to elect you. ¬†This part of a councillor’s role is campaigning.¬† Another important part is committee work. ¬†This is where the council officers brief members on existing policy and members in turn build on that policy for the betterment of the community. ¬†Each committee has a set number of places and each councillor will attempt to get onto the committees that most interest them. ¬†In the current democratic system the makeup of the committees, reflect the proportionality of the council overall. ¬†There are 78 councillors in total, 46 Conservative councillors and 16 Liberal Democrat councillors. ¬†Therefore, each committee will have a ratio reflecting 78 divided by 16 Lib Dem councillors. ¬†Hence the reason why it is imperative for a Party to gain as many Seats as possible.

The primary object of Select Committees is to scrutinize decisions made by the Cabinet portfolio holder for the particular responsibility.  In this case, Children’s Services or Children and Young People as the department is known.  However, the ability to hold the portfolio holder to account is very weak, since due to the system of proportionality of membership of the committees, the majority Party will have the majority of members on any committee who will always support decisions made by Cabinet members who are also selected from the majority Party.  Therefore, in practice the purpose of a scrutiny committee is to be informed about a particular service being provided by the council.  That said, through the work of the committee, the portfolio Lead will sometimes change the direction of their decision making process.

Committee Work

It is difficult for members of the public to know how effective their elected members are, but one way is to check how many councils they serve on and how many committees they have signed up to.

County Council committee meetings tend to take part during the day, whereas District and Town and Parish Council meetings are invariably held in the evenings.

Below is the list of committees I sit on;-

I am also a substitute member on the Environment & Economy Select Committee, should the principal member not be available.

Full Council

Under the present “Cabinet” system, which was made available to local government in 2001, any decision made by any council body must be ratified by putting the decision to the vote at that council’s “Full Council”. ¬†Before the decision can be made legally binding it is referred to as a recommendation to Full Council. ¬†For example, all councils will decide their Medium Term Budget Strategy and from that decide what precept will be recommended for Full Council. ¬†This year (2016) Hampshire County Council have decided on a 3.99% council tax increase for the municipal year 2016/17, Eastleigh Borough Council are recommending a 0% council Tax increase at their Full Council meeting on 25 February and West End Parish Council voted on a 0% council tax increase. ¬†The vote is undertaken by the councillors of the particular council and in theory each councillor can vote the way that they wish, but for matters of council tax, the vote always goes the way of the ruling party, simply because to become the ruling party, they will have the most councillors. ¬†Click here to learn more about Full Council‚Ķ

Councillor Training

You would be right in thinking, how do councillors productively take part in these committees if they have never done this sort of work before?  That is a very good question, because it can be quite daunting without the relevant training.  All councillors are encouraged to attend regular briefing sessions about the latest government policy from which they can then be a critical friend to the cabinet members who actually make the policy decisions.  It is all about asking probing questions of those decision makers to ensure the democratic mandate.

Having spent a career as a professional engineer, I was fully aware of the need to educate myself in the workings of the public sector, since it is very different to the work I previously did in the private sector.  In addition to the attendance of initiatives such as the Hi-Achievers councillor training where I attended training sessions at numerous council offices in the County speaking to other councillors from a variety of different Parties I enrolled on a pilot program at London South Bank University, called Local Governance for Councillors.  It was taken from a Masters of Public Administration, equating roughly to a Diploma in Public Administration.  This course of part-time study took one year to complete and of course involved regular trips to London.  It was hard work studying how local and national government works as well as doing community casework and attending committee meetings, but well worth it as it gave me a really good start to the provision of public services.  However immediately after completing the course, I found myself on doorsteps canvassing my community on the 2009 European Elections and finding that residents where asking many questions for which I did not know the answers.  I decided that I still had more learning to do and enrolled on a full-blown Masters in Public Administration degree at the University of Portsmouth.  This was a two year part-time course and if I thought the Local Governance for Councillor qualification challenging, then I was not fully prepared for the hard work that lay ahead.  To my satisfaction, I received Merit passes on both qualifications and now feel that I have a great deal of confidence to help my community to be the better place that I want it to be.