The new Councillor Commission reeassesses the role of the local councillor in democracy, and wants wide engagement to inform its recommendations
Are you worried about local democracy? So are we.
We’re particularly worried about councillors. They face an increasing amount of pressure, with declining capacity in councils to support them. They are experiencing funding cuts, threats of structural upheaval and devolution uncertainty. In a world of declining resources, they are being asked to take on more responsibility. At a time when trust in politics is at rock bottom, they are being told to step into the front line.
Why Councillors are important
Councillors are a vital component of local democracy, their place in the system ensures democracy at all levels of governance. You might never meet David Cameron, but you could easily bump into your very own councillor at your local supermarket. We should not underestimate the importance of these representatives who have a strong local tie. They are no less important than the Prime Minister; without the wide network of local representatives working for their local areas, we do not have a fully functioning democracy.
But it’s not quite working. More often than not, people don’t know who their local councillor is, or what they do. Councillors are sought out when things go wrong, and they are often criticised and blamed for the actions taken by the council as a whole.
We need to understand the challenges they face and redefine their role based on this revaluation. In short, we need to stop worrying and start doing.
How to fix this
Demsoc is playing a part in the newly formed Councillor Commission that is looking at what councillors do, and how they work. The aim of the commission is to encourage a positive debate about how to improve the role of councillors, and the way in which they govern our local communities.
Commissioner Anthony Zacharzewski said,
“We’re always looking for new ways for people to be active and involved in democracy, and local government is only going to be more important in coming years. I’m delighted to be part of the conversation and hope we can get a wide range of voices involved.”
The commission don’t want to just report their findings from what councillors have said – they need to hear from you. We all have experience in this because we all have representatives at our local council – whether we see them, or even care about them is another matter. They are there and they are working for us. You might not always agree with what they say, or the decisions that your council takes, but the role of the councillor is an important one in our democracy, and one that we need to protect.
Your chance to help
What are your thoughts on your councillors? What needs to change? I challenge you to go further – how would this improve democracy?
The Commission are gathering evidence from lots of different people and organisations. If you have any comments on Councillors after reading this article, they would love to hear from you.
Please send any thoughts or ideas you have on this to this address: firstname.lastname@example.org
They will hold a series of events in England to look at how councillors could be better. They are specifically looking at what councillors need for them to be better at dealing with local policy issues. If you’re interested in attending one of these discussions, please have a look at the LGRU’s website, where more details will be available.