Becoming a Councillor

Councillors are elected to the local council to represent their local community, so they must either live or work in the area. Becoming a Councillor is both a rewarding and privileged form of public service. You will be in a position to make a difference to the quality of other people’s daily lives and prospects.

Being an effective Councillor requires both commitment and hard work. Councillors have to balance the needs and interests of residents, the political party they represent (if any) and the council. These will all make legitimate demands on a Councillor’s time, on top of the demands and needs of their personal and professional lives. Before you consider becoming a Councillor you may want to discuss it with your family and friends to make sure they understand what you are taking on. You will need their support as you’ll have to spend some of your spare time on council business.

If you’re considering becoming a councillor, you will find everything you need to know to make your decision on the Local Government Association website.

What is expected of a Councillor?

The Councillor’s role and responsibilities include:

  • representing the ward for which they are elected
  • decision-making
  • developing and reviewing council policy
  • scrutinising decisions taken by the Councillors on the executive or cabinet
  • regulatory, quasi-judicial and statutory duties
  • community leadership and engagement.

Councillors may choose to hold regular drop-in surgeries. Surgeries are a chance for residents to meet you and discuss their problems or concerns. You may also need to spend time visiting constituents in their homes. On top of this you will be dealing with letters, emails and phone calls from constituents. When dealing with casework or council business you may need to meet with council staff. These meetings, and any visits to council offices, may need to take place during the working day.

Then there are council committee and scrutiny meetings. As a new Councillor, you are likely to be on one or more committee. Don’t worry if you don’t have any experience in this area: once elected, you will be provided with induction and on-going support.

How councils work

This depends on the type of council. There are several types of local council in England, for example district, borough, county, metropolitan and unitary councils. Sometimes these are referred to as local authorities. You may also want to consider standing as a Councillor for your town or parish council. These are smaller organisations that have some money to spend for the benefit of people in a small geographical area (for example a town or village).

All councils have things in common in the way they work and make decisions on behalf of local communities. They are all led by democratically elected Councillors who set the vision and direction of the council. Most are run on a system similar to that of central government, with an elected executive (or cabinet) to decide on policy and make decisions which other Councillors then ‘scrutinise’ or examine in detail.

All councils (with the exception of town or parish councils) are large organisations which play a big part in the local economy and influence many aspects of the lives of the people who live or work there. A large proportion of the work councils do, is determined by central government. Local councils vary widely in terms of their style, political leadership and approach to delivering these central government programmes, and it is here that your local knowledge and commitment could make a real difference.

Depending on the type of local authority it is, a council can be responsible for a range of services, such as:

  • education and lifelong learning
  • social services and health
  • housing and regeneration
  • waste collection
  • recycling
  • roads and street lighting
  • arts, sports and culture
  • community safety and crime reduction
  • environment
  • planning and regulation
  • tackling disadvantage and building strong, stable communities
  • taxing and spending
  • transport

These activities are mainly funded through payments from central government and the collection of council tax, although council tax makes up only about a quarter of a council’s income.

Over recent years the role of councils has changed. They now have additional responsibilities such as improving the health and wellbeing of local people through joint working with health services. Another important responsibility is community safety and crime reduction, usually achieved through partnership working with the police and voluntary and community groups.

Councils now deliver much of what they do in partnership with other councils, services and agencies, so as a Councillor you may have opportunities to sit on partnership boards or committees for health, education, community safety or regeneration.