This new councillor hub is intended to provide you with all the essential information you may need as a newly elected councillor and is a useful addition to the support and guidance you will receive from your own council.
The current context
2020 was an extraordinary year but one which, more than any other, has demonstrated the critical importance of local government coming together and speaking with one voice. From the outset, the LGA has consistently made the case for local action and leadership, for example on shielding, the move from national to local support without a doubt saved lives and improved the circumstances of our most vulnerable residents. We ensured that Government heard the argument for giving councils a leading role in responding to the pandemic, including the need for a leading role in track and trace. We have worked with councils to demonstrate to Government that where local councils can lead, there are better outcomes for our residents.
Amidst this, finance has been, and will remain, at the top of everyone’s agenda. Keeping services running in the face of huge reductions in income and increases in cost pressures remains critical. For councils, we have constantly lobbied for adequate funding for local government and throughout the year, we secured £4.7 billion across four tranches of general COVID-19 funding as well as billions in other specific funds.
We rapidly refocused our sector-led improvement offer to ensure that it reflected the needed to respond to COVID-19. This includes an expanded financial resilience programme, revamped remote peer support and extensive leadership programmes focused on supporting members and officers during these challenging times. We are working closely with councils to ensure that we continue to deliver the support that you need, which will be reflected in the sector-led improvement offer for 2021/22. You can read more about this support through the links available in this hub.
Councillors have a unique and privileged position and the potential to make a real difference to people’s lives. However, being a councillor is hard work. You will have many different roles to balance.
As the locally elected representative, you will engage with residents and groups on a wide range of issues and take on an important community leadership role. At the council, you will contribute to the development of polities and strategies, including budget setting, and you may be involved in scrutinising council decisions or taking decisions on planning or licensing applications.
You will be expected to balance the needs of your local area, your residents and voters, community groups, local businesses, your political party (if you belong to one) and the council.
The councillor’s role
- Representing your local area
A councillor’s primary role is to represent their ward or division and the people who live in it. Councillors provide a bridge between the community and the council. As well as being an advocate for local residents and signposting them to the right people at the council, you will need to keep them informed about the issues that affect them.
In order to understand and represent local views and priorities, you need to build strong relationships and encourage local people to make their views known and engage with you and the council. Good communication and engagement are central to being an effective councillor.
As a local councillor, your residents will expect you to:
- respond to their queries and investigate their concerns (casework)
- communicate council decisions that affect them
- know your patch and be aware of any problems
- know and work with representatives of local organisations, interest groups and businesses
- represent their views at council meetings
- lead local campaigns on their behalf.
- Community leadership
Community leadership is at the heart of modern local government. Councils work in partnership with local communities and organisations – including the public, voluntary, community and private sectors – to develop a vision for their local area, working collaboratively to improve services and quality of life for citizens. Councillors have a lead role in this process.
- Developing council policy
Councils need clear strategies and policies to enable them to achieve their vision for the area, make the best use of resources and deliver services that meet the needs of local communities. As a councillor you will contribute to the development of these policies and strategies, bringing the views and priorities of your local area to the debate. How you do this will depend on the committees and forums you are appointed to. However, the council’s policy framework must be signed off by full council, on which every councillor sits.
- Planning and regulation
Councils are not just service providers; they also act as regulators. As a councillor you may be appointed to sit on the planning and regulatory committee – considering issues such as planning applications, licences for pubs and restaurants and ensuring that businesses comply with the law. In these roles, councillors are required to act independently and are not subject to the group or party whip. Most councils arrange special training for this.
- Dealing with intimidation and abuse
A pressing concern facing those in public life is the increasing level of intimidation and abuse. In local government, this is risking the personal safety of members, undermining local democracy and decision-making, spreading misinformation, and putting off prospective candidates from standing. While debate and having different views is all part of a healthy democracy, abuse, public intimidation, and threats are designed to undermine democratic decision-making.
Code of conduct and standards
As a councillor you will be required to adhere to your council’s agreed code of conduct for elected members. Each council adopts its own code, but it must be based on the Committee on Standards in Public Life’s seven principles of public life.
These were developed by the Nolan Committee, which looked at how to improve ethical standards in public life and are often referred to as the ‘Nolan principles’. They apply to anyone who works as a public office holder. This includes all those elected or appointed to public office, nationally or locally, and everyone working in the civil service, local government, the police, courts and probation services, non-departmental public bodies and in the health, education and social care sectors. All public office holders are both servants of the public and stewards of public resources. The principles also apply to everyone in other sectors delivering public services.
All councils are required to promote and maintain high standards of conduct by councillors, but individual councillors must also take responsibility. For example, you must register any disclosable pecuniary (financial) interests for yourself, your spouse, your civil partner, or a partner you live with, within 28 days of taking up office. It is a criminal offence if you fail, without reasonable excuse, to declare or register interests to the monitoring officer.
Seven principles of public life
Holders of public office should uphold the following seven principles:
Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest.
Holders of public office must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence them in their work. They should not act or take decisions in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family or their friends. They must declare and resolve any interests and relationships.
Holders of public office must act and take decisions impartially, fairly and on merit, using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias.
Holders of public office are accountable to the public for their decisions and actions and must submit themselves to the scrutiny necessary to ensure this.
Holders of public office should act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner. Information should not be withheld from the public unless there are clear and lawful reasons for doing so.
Holders of public office should be truthful.
Holders of public office should exhibit these principles in their own behaviour. They should actively promote and robustly support the principles and be willing to challenge poor behaviour wherever it occurs.
Events and resources
- Upcoming national events for new councillors
National New Councillor Welcome Event June 2021
LGA National Events: Welcome to Newly Elected Councillors
Following the elections in May the LGA are pleased to invite all newly elected councillors to attend one of the LGA’s virtual national welcome events, hosted via zoom. This will be a great opportunity for new councillors to explore what their role means; learn about challenges facing councils; and meet colleagues from other councils. The session will cover a range of national and regional issues of interest, along with an opportunity to meet experienced councillors and hear more about the LGA’s support for members.
The virtual events are free of charge and will run for 90 mins on 11 June (2pm), 22 June (10am) and 28 June (5:30pm) and delegates can choose to attend any one of these sessions to suit their availability. The sessions will be hosted by the LGA and will complement council’s own induction programmes. Following the elections an event link will be live for delegates to register via the LGA’s Events page.
- Event resources for new councillors
The LGA run events and sessions following local elections as an opportunity to provide support to new (and returning) councillors. These present an opportunity to speak to experienced LGA member peers about their top tips and to share thoughts from other experienced councillors – some of which are collated and shared as FAQs.
A research report from July 2016 which reflects on the roles that councillors are playing, or recognise that they will need to be playing, within their organisations and localities. It explains why these roles are emerging as the key contributions for councillors, and then explores councillor careers and development, to consider how councillors can be supported to perform these roles effectively.
Civility in public life
Across the UK, there are growing concerns about the impact an increasing level of public intimidation, online abuse and misinformation, and toxicity of debate is having on democratic processes, particularly at a local level.
The LGA’s Civility in public life programme seeks to improve the quality of local debate and support councillors in their interactions with fellow politicians and residents by establishing standards, such as the Model Code of Conduct, and a range of other evidence and resources to support councillors fulfil their role.
All areas of local government have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. We have a huge amount of information available through our website to assist you in your role as a councillor including specific information on; council services; good council practice; and support such as advice on virtual meetings and responding to issues arising from coronavirus.
This page sets out some advice for considering and maintaining your personal safety and security. While much of this is common sense, we hope the reminders will prove useful.