England & Wales Democracy, devolution and governance

New councillor? Get ready to plan as a team

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This is part of LGIU’s resources for new councillors. To make the most of our resources be sure to register with LGIU.

Congratulations! Try to find time for some rest and reflection on your achievements amid the frenzy of induction activities.

You’ll know that the conversations and messages you have heard on the doorstep are important and you will have local ward and group manifesto pledges to deliver on or call for. Aim to keep the breadth of those voices, personalities and conversations fresh in your mind as you head into your first few weeks and months as a councillor. You have a unique perspective on what is most important for your local area. Information and data from officers can supplement that picture with valuable insight on local needs and priorities – but you are the one who has walked the streets, met with community groups and local businesses, and knocked on doors.

The time will fly quickly! I was elected in 2014 and the term raced by. So do plan individually and as a team what you want to achieve in each annual cycle. I was lucky and privileged to work with a number of more experienced councillors who gave invaluable advice on starting out and who to speak to. But you also need to craft your own path by being clear about your values and priorities, your interest areas and where you feel you can make a difference. Aim to get involved in a good mix of local ward as well as council-wide priorities. Personal highlights ranged from the very tangible (campaigning for and securing a new pedestrianised crossing) to the more relational (working with a local residents association to create a community compact to tackle fly-tipping).

You don’t have to do everything yourself and are always part of a team and teams plural when you think about the variety of service areas you may become involved in and the dimensions of local ward and group level decision-making. You’ll need to find and locate yourself within the vision and priorities you collectively set for the council or are calling for.

The decision-making process and committee structure can feel overwhelming initially, especially when large reports land in your inbox. Look for evidence that residents voices have shaped and informed the policy options and look forwards for a clear picture and vision for what will change, how, when, the pros and cons and associated risks. You can always ask for a verbal briefing or presentation on key issues ahead of meetings.

With built developments and place schemes in particular you are collectively shaping places for hundreds of years to come. Get involved in shaping plans at an early stage. You have every right to call for a robust and detailed picture of what is proposed and how communities will be meaningfully involved.

Above all enjoy the work that you do. Be clear about your values. ‘What’ you spend your time on will flex and change as you respond to different priorities and issues but your ‘why’ should remain constant. So take some time to reflect on the campaign messages, plan what you want to achieve, and never forget why you stood for election in the first place.

Chris Hayes served as a Councillor for Kingston Upon Thames Council from 2014 to 2018 and continues to support LGiU as an associate.

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