Councillors and constituents

….pulling towards the bottom circle

Councillors spend a great deal of time advocating and representing individual constituents’ concerns by trying to broker a solution for them.  This can lead to constituents becoming dependant on their councillor to solve their problems and at times having outrageous expectations!

…people expect you to respond immediately – I was lying on a beach in Greece when my phone rang and it was one of my constituents telling me that his bin hadn’t been emptied and what was I going to do about it!

This way of working can also be very time consuming but, it can be hard to change as people have come to expect it and rate their councillor on how they manage this side of things – how they respond as ‘the fourth emergency service’.

This particular aspect of the work can be very satisfying though, as it is about tangibly helping people with the difficulties they have with the Council and other agencies. And, at times it can be quicker and easier to do it yourself.

Even when trying to limit how much of this you do, it is very tempting, to write that letter as it is more likely that officers will respond to a councillor rather than to an individual constituent.

Some find it hard to change how they interpret the councillor role, especially if they have been doing it for a long time, and some explicitly dislike the new imperatives around localism, see the representative function as distinct from participatory democratic structures – and work to keep their distance from community networks and groups. They see their role as solely representing individual constituents.

Councillors feel they have limited potential to respond to certain issues raised by constituents and communities, with many people unaware of or not understanding what’s possible.

Sometimes people think you have more power than you do e.g. planning law …… can represent views but not necessarily ‘do’ anything

There is also the danger that more articulate and ‘stroppy’ constituents expect their councillor to always represent their particular views on issues, which can be difficult for councillors to deal with as they are in a position where they are committed to respresenting the views and needs of a wide range of constituents. It is useful therefore for councillors to work with a local network of people with whom they can discuss and prioritise local issues. By doing this they can prevent representing only their own views or those of the loudest voices.  By supporting and working with community groups and Voluntary Sector Organisations (VSO) councillors can also revitalise their role and support local democracy.

Now have a look at councillors and the voluntary and community sector