England & Wales Culture, sport and tourism, Finance, Health and social care, Housing and planning

Primer time for new councillors

Photo by Gary Ellis on Unsplash

“It is an exciting but challenging time to be joining local government. Take your time and be discriminating, there’s lots of information out there but you don’t need to take it all in at once. Concentrate on some of the key issues identified in this primer and, above all, don’t be afraid to ask questions!”.  (LGIU Finance Primer)

Our new series of primers should help recently elected councillors understand more about key council services – what their council is responsible for, current issues, how to get involved and the main roles of elected members. We hope they will be useful for others too – officers and more experienced councillors.

Becoming a councillor can feel overwhelming – you could be confronted very soon with problems by constituents, you have to learn pretty quickly about the practicalities of your new role and about who does what – and much more. Services, systems and council responsibilities can be very complex and having a quick and clear way of getting to grips with key services is needed: hence our primers.

Look at finance – notorious for being difficult and convoluted. No councillor or indeed non finance specialist officer would be expected to fully understand hugely technical details, but all councillors should be aware of the budget process. Our finance primer focuses on this – a process that basically never stops throughout the year, even though there are key dates as part of it. What is the planning framework for budget setting and monitoring; where does the money come from; what should councillors be looking out for about the financial health of their authority?

And social care – again complex but in a somewhat different way to finance. How social care and health work together, for example, is important to understand, but is complicated and it isn’t helped by the government changing NHS structures at frequent intervals; what are integrated care systems, joint commissioning teams, pooled budgets? Given the huge pressures on social care even new councillors may be faced by very difficult questions from residents and from voluntary organisations working with care clients.

Our primer explains the fundamentals of social care – working with health, how care is arranged through the council, prevention and promoting independence, and ensuring quality. We also cover how councillors are involved – as ward councillors representing constituents, as executive members, or as members of health and wellbeing boards or scrutiny committees.

The series also includes primers on the planning system, housing and cultural services and we will be publishing additional primers over time – so look out for new ones.

Alongside the primers we run frequent training events on particular services and current issues and of course we publish policy briefings daily on a huge range of local government topics.

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