Councillors are part of the civic governance system; they have different roles within that system depending on how it operates. Councils with Cabinets or directly elected Mayors offer fewer proactive roles for the majority of councillors around decision making. This can lead to some councillors feeling distanced and disengaged from the political process.
Some councillors view the Committee system as essential and a prerequisite for achieving the aspirations of localism.
Relationships between councillors and officers have historically been difficult at times and vary across departments and councils. Some councillors see the relationship about working in partnership, which brings its own challenges, and others are more presuming.
Some councillor colleagues think because they have democratic legitimacy, officers are meant to do their bidding – they can be arrogant and bossy. Phrases such as as ‘I’m not having this’ and that they have to call us ‘councillor’ adds to our status!
Councillors generally start their role with enthusiasm and commitment but somtimes get sucked into a style of working which is about meetings and voting – and soon ‘representation’ translates into sitting in meetings.
The importance of political strength in the council; if councillors are part of a majority party, they are more likely to be listened to and their priorities actioned. The majority of councillors are in a political party and this has a bearing on how they carry out their roles. Sometimes party politics will affect how they represent local issues in their area and new councillors can feel that they have to toe the party line, cannot speak out on issues and are situated fairly low down the pecking order.
Sometimes party allegiances can get in the way of councillors across wards working together, in some areas this is actively discouraged whereas in others it is encouraged. Hwever, those who are part of the political opposition can use this role for scrutiny purposes.
The election system can lead to short–term agendas with councillors looking to the next election and votes. They can be ‘all friends to all people’ and work with those who are important to their political career. Some councillors feel too vulnerable to take risks or take positions on local issues; they want to be everyone’s friend. The competitive nature of elections means that candidates can feel unable to challenge issues or behaviour in their patch. Putting your head above the parapet is the last thing you want to do near election time if it means you will be judged negatively by some segment of the voting public
Now have a look at some Case Studies