How others see the role is also important; councillors report that constituents are generally unaware of what they do and what are the limitations of their role. This is confirmed by those that we spoke to during the research – not only do few people really understand how the council works and how councillors fit in, many don’t know who their local councillor is!
Councillors often wear different ‘hats’ and sometimes these hats get mixed up when they don’t wear them appropriately; they can be a resident, councillor, board member, parent, service user all at the same time. People can sometimes be confused about which hats they are wearing in different contexts.
A specific issue for some constituents, when their councillor has additional responsibilities, such as being a cabinet member, is trying to get meetings or events in their diary. This is especially relevant when councillors are not in charge of their own diaries. It can be very frustrating trying to set dates for future meetings when it is not possible to know your councillors availability.
Some respondents question the competency and capability of some town and parish councillors to carry out a new interpretation of their role. There is a different skill set needed as well as a shift in attitudes.
…….localism is not the shopping list model of being a councillor – it requires working with people – requires a different skill set.
There is a perceived danger if councillors set themselves up as self styled leaders and if they are too strong a character…that this can lead to a paralysis of the local community. Simiarly, voluntary organisations can find it hard to deal with councillors with strong character when they sit on their boards.
Thoughts on what councillors could do more of – from people in voluntary and community groups/organsations:
Be more flexible, responsive and accessible, and understand the impact of decisions or inertia on communities
Be open to suggestions about urgency – getting things done without layers of bureaucracy
Be more pro-active…only see them when they are canvassing
Be the village chief – offer support to find out information, signpost and connect
Help local people to support and push through issues into action and support people through council processes
Work for the good of the community
…rediscover the sense they are elected to represent people not the council
Stop doing things that don’t work well
Stop the ‘it’s not going to work’ mentality and ‘we’ve tried this before’…
Not just focus one on one relationships……we need thematic based forums with all councillors – they’re from a patch.
Encourage community owned forums with ground rules
Use online resources for people to communicate their issues – learn how to use social media
Be impartial and provide balance
Be a critical friend to the community
Encourage involvement, motivate and inspire
Know their area – their patch and how people are already involved
Be open and transparent about what they can and cannot make decisions on
Celebrate community, not just groups
Mediate different interests – young/old; rich/poor – bring people together
Talk to people – get out there
Encourage and inspire young people to engage
Listen and hear local people with different views
Listen to what people in the area are actually saying
Not just listen to those who shout loudest – encourage a feeling that we’re all in it together
Tailor engagement to reach different groups
Help people do things for themselves, not do things for people
Be competent to make decisions – know about the things they are making decisions about
Be aware of their own influence in particular circles and understand how they are influenced by influential people in the neighbourhood
Now have a look at what could localism be