What it takes to become an effective local councillor

Local councillors must serve as unifying forces, fostering a sense of community and guiding residents towards shared goals.

Many have been actively participating in local elections for several years, while others are contemplating their first run in the upcoming June 2024 local elections.

Becoming an effective local councillor is an ongoing journey. New candidates are starting to understand the multifaceted nature of the role, while experienced officials are discovering that they need to consider re-evaluating their approaches.

The major political parties often prioritise electability over quality, focusing heavily on a candidate’s ability to win votes. This can create hurdles for new candidates, who often face an uphill battle during their initial campaigns to establish themselves. Furthermore, the absence of sufficient candidate training necessitates that those aspiring to run successful election campaigns must begin their preparations from scratch. Therefore, selecting the right approach is pivotal for a strong beginning.

The role of a councillor

An elected councillor has numerous responsibilities to bear in mind if they genuinely aim to make a positive impact, both in their local community and in the lives of the residents they represent. These responsibilities include:

– Leading and formulating strategies and plans for their community, ensuring a balance between the diverse needs of residents and the locality, while identifying the priorities that the local council should address. 

– Guaranteeing democratic responsibility for the public services rendered and holding service providers to the Council answerable to ensure the most effective use of the compensation they receive.

– Engaging with key stakeholders to unite everyone in addressing social, economic, and environmental challenges.

– Overseeing the affairs of the local council, particularly by ensuring thorough scrutiny of its work, plans, decisions, efficiency, and resource utilisation.

– Collaborating with colleagues to facilitate resident participation, involving local businesses and other stakeholders in decision-making processes to enhance civic engagement within the community.

– Working with colleagues to maintain an environment in which the community can thrive and enjoy the best possible quality of life.

It is crucial to bear in mind that, when councillors operate with transparency, responsibility, inclusiveness, and effectiveness, they frequently earn recognition and gratitude from residents when the time comes to elect their representatives.

Understanding what needs to be done

Building on their role as democratically elected representatives, councillors serve as unifying forces, fostering a sense of community and guiding residents towards shared goals. To achieve this, they must first integrate seamlessly into the councillor group, regardless of their background or political affiliation. With this purpose in mind, a councillor can serve as the link connecting residents to the local council, fostering synergy between the desires, expectations, and actions of the local council and the community.

Irrespective of any training a candidate may have received during an electoral campaign, it is important to note that being elected as a councillor doesn’t automatically make one an expert in all matters. Moreover, following their election, it becomes imperative that elected councillors  actively participate in training sessions organised to enhance their skills and the attitude they need to embrace, and to augment their knowledge on how to take well-informed decisions. Effective council participation goes beyond just meetings. It includes active engagement in council-organised activities, public discussions, and consultations.  Accessibility is also crucial – residents should know how and where to reach their councillor.

Mario Fava is the President of the Local Councils Association.

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