people like are councillors you Independent Group

people like you
are councillors
A guide from the Local Government Association
Independent Group about your choices
in becoming a local councillor
Leadership Centre for local government
be a councillor
Ever thought of becoming a local councillor? Perhaps you’re already
involved in local affairs and want to take the next step? Or perhaps
you just like the idea of doing something worthwhile and rewarding
to help your community.
Most people stand for election as councillors under the banner of the
three largest political parties: Conservative, Labour or Liberal Democrat.
However, there is also a strong tradition of local councillors working
as Independents, or as representatives of political parties and groups
other than the three largest political parties, such as the Green Party.
If you want to be a councillor, but not representing the Conservative,
Liberal Democrat or Labour parties, this guide is for you.
Whatever path you choose in becoming a local councillor, there are
things in common that all prospective candidates should know before
they embark on getting elected. These include commonly asked
questions such as how much time it will take, what kinds of things you
can expect to get involved in, what the main rules and regulations are
and how much you can receive in allowances working as a councillor.
This guide answers the most commonly asked questions, and provides
snap-shot profiles from existing councillors to help you decide whether
working as a councillor is for you.
What do councillors do?
Councillors are people who are elected to the local council to
represent their local community. They must either live or work in
the area. Becoming a councillor is both a rewarding and privileged
form of public service. You will be in a position to make a
difference to the quality of other people’s daily lives and prospects.
However, being an effective councillor requires both commitment
and hard work. There will be extra pulls on your time on top of the
demands and needs of a councillor’s personal and professional
lives. Before you consider becoming a councillor you should discuss
it with your family and friends to ensure that they appreciate you
will need their support and understanding – you may be spending a
lot of your spare time on council business.
Marianne Overton
R International
R ‘RELATE’ vice chairman
R University
R Local councillor
Independent councillor in Lincolnshire
I came into local politics when a number of us got
‘cross’ about a planning issue. We realised that we were not getting much
support through our local councillor, who we felt was just as interested
in representing his party as he was in representing local people. I was
therefore determined to stand as an independent councillor and have been
elected many times since then, the last vote being the highest in the
county – I do hope that will be repeated.
I am involved in many organisations in the eleven villages that make up
my ward and am elected to serve at parish, district and county levels.
I also serve on regional and national committees. This helps me keep in
touch with what matters in my area and to help on key issues using lots of
tools available. I am a representative on a Primary Care Trust, a governor
of the University and vice chairman of ‘RELATE Lincolnshire’. I find working
across organisations really helps my skills, knowledge and understanding.
I try to share the good things I learn and encourage everyone to work
towards the same direction for the good of the people we serve.
Being respected as a councillor is really important and opens doors. I
think being independent helps because no-one is pulling my strings and
when I speak, I know I have genuinely considered an issue carefully and
can concentrate on what is best for people in my area.
It is hard work because I want to do so much. I love being able to use
skills and knowledge to make life better for people; helping to get the
right support for a widower burning the doors of his council flat for
heating; assisting a mother desperate because her son has been expelled
from school with a drug problem; setting up voluntary car schemes to help
isolated rural people; being part of a team to get the money needed for
a new village hall; working to get concessionary fares and neighbourhood
policing fully funded in Lincolnshire; finding ways to improve services
encourage local businesses and the ‘greening’ of council policies.
The public sector has some big budgets; two of mine each spend over a
billion pounds every year. It is important that we have councillors who
care, are prepared to speak for their communities, are thoughtful and have
integrity – people like you. Go for it!
How councils work
This depends on the type of council. There are several types of local authority
in England, for example District, Borough, County, Metropolitan, City and
Unitary councils. You may also want to consider standing as a councillor for
Town or Parish council elections. All councils have things in common in the
way they work and make decisions on behalf of local communities.
All types of council influence many aspects of the lives of people who live
in their area. A large proportion of the work councils do is determined by
central government. Local councils vary widely because of their style and
the approach they take to delivering these central government programmes.
All types of council have a constitution which sets out the rules and
regulations concerning how they operate or are governed.
Nearly all councils have a system similar to central government, with an
executive (or cabinet) to decide on policy and make decisions, and other
councillors to scrutinise or examine those decisions in detail.
All councils have a responsibility for planning and delivering a large range of
public services, although the responsibilities will be different depending on
which type of council is involved. The full range of responsibilities covers:
•planning and regulation
•arts, sports and culture
•social services and health
•community safety and crime
•tackling disadvantage and
building strong, stable
•education and lifelong learning
•taxing and spending
Local council areas are divided into wards and depending on the type
of council, will have different numbers of councillors able to be elected
to each ward.
Every councillor is elected for four years. The pattern of when elections
takes place will be different according to the type of council you are on.
Some councils hold elections across the whole of the local authority area
once every four years. Some councils hold elections every year, but
only in parts of the local authority area (for example, one third of the
councillors in a local authority area will be elected every year). If you
want to know when elections will be held for particular councils you can
either contact the council concerned directly and ask for the Electoral
Services department, or you can visit the Electoral Commission website – The Electoral Commission makes sure
that elections are carried out properly. To find out information about
your local council visit the postcode search page on UpMyStreet at:
What is expected of a councillor?
The councillor’s role and responsibilities include:
• representing the ward they are elected in
• decision-making
• developing and reviewing council policy on a range of issues
• scrutinising the decisions taken by the councillors on the executive
• regulatory duties
• community leadership and engagement
Councils now deliver a lot of what they do in partnership with other
services and agencies. So you may have opportunities to sit on
partnership boards or committees for health, education, and regeneration.
But remember that this will often involve additional meetings
and background preparation.
Most councillors hold up to three drop-in surgeries each month.
Surgeries are a chance for residents to meet you and discuss their
problems or concerns face to face. You may also need to spend time
visiting constituents in their homes. On top of this you will also deal
with letters, emails and phone calls from constituents.
When dealing with casework or council business you may need to meet
with council staff. These meetings, and any visits to council offices, will
often need to be during the working day.
Then there are council and scrutiny meetings
Scrutiny is the crucial process of looking at the work and decisions of the
executive. As well as the close examination of councillors, it can also
involve the community and interested parties. Handled well, scrutiny
procedures can stimulate real local involvement in how the council
manages and delivers its business.
Councillors may also sit on quasi-judicial committees, for example
a planning committee, which takes non-political decisions on
planning applications.
The number and length of these meetings varies from council to council.
Check you local council’s website for more information.
Depending on arrangements within your local authority, you will have
opportunities to join relevant political group meetings (eg, Green Party
and Independent Groups) particularly before full council meetings, as well
as group training events.
Randy Conteh
R Local football supporter
R Involved with
community groups
R Charity worker
R Local councillor
Independent councillor in Stoke
I have been an Independent councillor on Stoke on Trent City Council for
nearly seven years now and although it’s been extremely hard work I have
genuinely enjoyed it.
My role includes addressing individual resident’s concerns and issues,
responding to local petitions or organising successful consultation events,
combined with fun-days and I work hard to balance my private and home
life alongside trying to improve other people’s lives.
Free time for me is spent supporting our local football team, socialising
and spending a considerable amount of time and effort organising local
charity events.
Getting my point across is really important to me so I regularly attend
both council and committee meetings where I like to have my say. Being
a councillor within an Independent Group means that we are not subject
to any party whip – in fact we are allowed to vote as an individual so I
can honestly say, I always vote with my conscience!
People often tell me I’m always quoted in the local paper, but if you tell
the truth, speak from the heart and most often talk common sense, then
people will listen. This, more often than not, helps to achieve my aims,
which after all, are always on behalf of the people who voted for me in
the first place and of course who I still love to represent!
What kind of skills and experience do councillors need?
Diverse groups tend to make better informed decisions, so it is important
that councils not only represent the communities they serve, but also have
a wide range of skills and experience. That’s where you come in.
Rupert Read
walking on the
R Enjoys
R Keen cyclist
Norfolk coast and Lakeland
astronomer when R Local councillor
R Amateur
light pollution allows
Green Party councillor in Norwich
My name is Rupert Read. I work as a Norwich City Councillor for Wensum
ward, and I am the lead Green Party candidate to be a Member of the
European Parliament for the Eastern Region in the elections to take place
on June 4, 2009. I have taken a year’s unpaid leave from the University of
East Anglia, where I have taught philosophy since 1998, to campaign in these
elections. I specialise in environmental and political philosophy and I have
published several books, including Philosophy for Life which demonstrates
how philosophy can help us tackle problems in the world today.
I have learnt a lot as a councillor. I keep busy, I’m very passionate
about providing a good sustainable transport infrastructure in our fine
city, and I’m the Green Party’s spokesman for transport in Norwich. I was
heavily involved in the decision last year to impose 20mph speed limits
throughout residential streets in Norwich: my contribution to this is my
biggest political achievement on the Council to date.
The knowledge and experience you have picked up through your personal
and professional life are important. While you don’t need any special or
formal qualifications to be a councillor, having or being able to develop
the following skills, knowledge and attributes will help you in your role:
• communication skills
These include listening and interpersonal skills, public speaking skills
and the ability to accept alternative points of view as well as the ability
to negotiate, mediate and resolve conflict
• problem solving and analytical skills
This includes being able to get to the bottom of an issue and to think of
different ways to resolve it, including advantages and disadvantages of each
• team working
Including being able to work with others in meetings and on committees
and being able to complete on time any tasks that you agree to do
• organisational skills
These include being able to plan and manage your time, keep
appointments and meet deadlines
• ability to engage with your local community
You may have to make yourself available through meetings, the media,
the internet, public forums, debates, on the phone and face to face
at regular sessions called surgeries
You might also have specific skills and knowledge gained from professional
experience or from working with other groups. These might be:
• the needs of specific groups, such as children and young people,
older people or those with health problems
• an understanding of financial management and reporting processes
• legal and regulatory systems or procedures
• housing, regeneration or environmental issues
• or related to any of the many services and facilities provided
by your local council
But don’t worry if you think you don’t yet have some of the skills or
confidence to be a councillor. All councils have support, information and
training available for new councillors.
Could I be a councillor?
The local council is the place where decisions affecting local people are made.
If you care about the area you live in and the issues facing the people
who live there, you might want to find out more about how the council
works and how decisions are reached.
Your interest might range from the level of council tax in your area, to local
amenities and services or just the irritating speed hump outside your home.
Research tells us that the issues that concern most people are crime,
schools, transport and the environment. But there are as many issues as
there are councillors.
Your local council can make a difference on all these issues and so can
you as a local councillor.
I don’t think I have the time ...
How much time it takes being a councillor is largely up to you and the
commitments you might take on as a councillor.
One council estimates the time commitment as ranging from
between 5 and 20 hours a week. Your role within the council would
determine just how much time you should be prepared to give to
being a councillor. For example, you may, over time, become a chair
of a particular committee which will mean the time you have to give
to council work will increase.
You will be expected to attend some council commitee meetings which are
usually held in the evening so that councillors can attend after work hours.
Like most things in life, what you get back depends on how much you
put in. But remember, the amount of time you give to it is almost
entirely up to you.
Why should I become a councillor?
There are many reasons why people decide to become a local councillor.
Councillors say that some of the reasons include:
• wanting to make a difference and be involved in shaping the future
of the local community
• being concerned about the area in which they live and wanting
to ensure that their local community gets the services needed
• wanting to represent the views of local people and ensure that local
community interests are taken into account
• wanting to pursue their political beliefs
• to contribute business or professional skills
• concerns about one particular issue, for example care for older
people, the lack of facilities in an area, or traffic congestion
For some, it is an extension of what they are already doing. It might be
that you are active in a political party, trade union, charity, voluntary
group or school governing body, and you see becoming a councillor
as a next step.
Who can be a councillor?
The easy answer is almost anyone, as long as you:
1. are British, or a citizen of the Commonwealth or the European Union
2. are 18 years of age or over
3. are registered to vote in the area or if you have lived, worked or
owned property there for at least 12 months before an election
Who can’t be a councillor?
Some people can’t be a councillor because...
1. they work for the council they want to be a councillor for, or work for
another council in a politically restricted post
2. they are bankrupt or have been surcharged in excess of £2,000
3. they have served a prison sentence (including suspended sentences)
of three months or more in the five years before the election
4. they have been disqualified under any legislation relating to corrupt
or illegal practices
Will I get paid for being a councillor?
Councillors do not receive a salary. However, you will be paid
a ‘member’s allowance’ to reimburse you for time and expenses
incurred while on council business.
Each council sets its own rate for members’ allowances. You can
find out more information about allowances from your local council
or through its website.
Can I be a councillor and have a job?
Yes. By law if you are working your employer must allow you to take a
reasonable amount of time off during working hours to perform your duties
as a councillor.
The amount of time off will depend on your responsibilities and the effect
of your absence on your employer’s business.
You should discuss this with your employer before making the commitment.
Can I be a councillor if I’m disabled?
The criteria for being a councillor are set out on page 11 and if you are
disabled the same conditions apply.
As a disabled candidate in an election you don’t get any additional funds
or support from your local council to help you canvass potential voters,
although a political party may be able to provide some support.
However, once you become a councillor, your council will work with
you to overcome any barriers there are to you being fully involved.
Being a councillor is not a full time job and should not affect any
incapacity benefit you receive.
Visit and read about the experiences of
Marie Pye, a councillor in Waltham Forest who is disabled.
What support is available to councillors?
Councils have staff available to provide support and assistance to
councillors, regardless of which political party or group they belong to.
Exactly what facilities you get depends on the council. Usually, you will
be provided with a computer for your home, paid-for internet access and
an additional telephone line and/or mobile phone.
You will be using email, the internet and Microsoft Office packages.
You can expect full IT training tailored to suit your needs.
Clarence Barrett
R Enjoys sport
R Full-time accountant
R Amateur astronomer
R Local councillor
Residents’ Association councillor in the London
Borough of Havering
I was first elected as a Residents’ Association councillor in 2006. Since
then I have become leader of our ‘Independent group’ on Havering Council,
which forms the opposition on the council. We are the largest group of
independently elected councillors in the London area.
As I work full time as an accountant in the public sector, have a young
family and manage a demanding work programme; time management and
support from my family is crucial.
Having spent five years as a magistrate, I wanted to do more in the
community and make a real difference. I was keen to focus my energies
away from the mainstream parties as I believe local communities are best
served by people who know that community best and are able to take their
decision-making directly from the people.
Independent councillors have much to offer. There is no reason why
Independent councillors should not be organised in a greater sense while
still able to retain their ability to make their own decisions, which is an
important factor in serving local communities.
Being a councillor is a great privilege and having the opportunity to
shape, influence and respond to the needs of our community makes it a
very worthwhile and rewarding experience.
First steps to becoming a councillor
To find out when your first chance to stand as a councillor is likely to
be you can either contact the council concerned directly and ask for the
Electoral Services department, or you can visit the Electoral Commission
website –
Kate Kravis
R Wife and mother of three
R Business owner
R 37 years old
R Local councillor
Independent councillor in West Somerset
When I was elected to West Somerset Council in May
2007 I was nearly overwhelmed with the enormity of what I had taken on
and the responsibility given to me by those who had actually taken the time
to vote. My election campaign had involved two leaflets partly designed by
my 13 year old daughter. My husband and children had gallantly taken to the
streets to deliver them.
I think this approach was, and hopefully still is, my strong point. I am a
working mother who loves where I live and feels my community deserves a
councillor who will do their best for them without the pull of party politics.
It’s important to remember who elected you and although my heart sinks a
little at those tea time phone calls, my most satisfying moments are when
I can use my knowledge to help someone through the confusing world of
local government. A few months after the election I joined the Cabinet of
the Council and now have responsibility for housing. Soon, developments
I have been involved in will see local people moving in. There are a lot of
challenges working in the area of housing provision but I enjoy the work
So far my main priority has been to help my council improve. I sometimes
step back and wonder how I changed from a rather reluctant councillor
to one who has taken this on with such enthusiasm. It’s a huge task and
I have a few more grey hairs, but I am determined that even if I am not
elected again, I know I will have made a difference to my council, and
through that, my community will be a better place for it.
If you want to stand as an Independent councillor…
Your next step is to start building your profile so that local
people know who you are, and working out your position on local ‘hot’
issues, which are often crime, environment, schools etc. You’ll need to
know what your local council is doing about these issues as well as how
your own opinion differs from that of the political parties. Nearer
election time, as you start going door-to-door persuading people to vote
for you, you’ll be challenged on your opinions. You might also want to
see if you can begin building a group of supporters who will be able to
help with your election campaign.
Natalie Warriner
R Loves music
R Fan of crosswords
R Enjoys recreational reading R Local councillor
Independent councillor in Pickering, North Yorkshire
I was first elected to the Town Council in 1998, following a varied career
in multidisciplinary training for Child Protection service deliverers, various
third sector roles and a general curiosity about systems and why things
took so long to deliver.
My children were grown up and I was medically redundant from a
management post.
There was no burning single issue around apart from the fact that the
Town had not had a big Christmas tree for several years due to vandalism.
To my surprise my community elected me and I have been unopposed
ever since. As an extremely independent woman who does not suffer
fools gladly I had several challenges. However, in my working life I
had been a mediator and thank goodness for that, as it tempered what
might have been some very interesting discussions!
I did have some loose party political connections, but was never really
a party animal in more ways than one.
Being an Independent councillor has been very beneficial to my
community: they know I will act on their behalf and ensure that fair
play prevails inasmuch as I can.
I am happy to say that my town council is not party political, which
enables much more consensus.
I am always very aware that my community elected me because they
trusted my judgment and ability, so it is my responsibility to develop
my skills and function in the best possible way for them.
In 2002 I became District Councillor representing an Option 4 authority,
representing them on the Rural Commission and the Rural Services Network
where I am the northern Vice Chairman, and am now the Deputy Leader of
the LGA Independent Group.
I’ve made up my mind to become a councillor.
What should I do next?
As the numbers of Independent and smaller political party councillors
are currently fewer across England than councillors representing the
Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties, it does mean finding
support and advice outside of the larger party political machinery. But as
this booklet has demonstrated – the support and advice is out there.
If you want to be an Independent councillor, a councillor for the Green
Party or a councillor for one of the several other smaller political parties
in existence, you can receive support from the LGA Independent Group
Office (and where relevant the Green Party National Office can supply
details of support available). The Independent Group office at the LGA
cannot help you directly with election campaigning but can offer general
advice and assistance. Once you have been elected, the LGA Independent
Group holds regular regional meetings and produces bulletins and
publications which you can access on a regular basis.
For Independent councillors and councillors elected through residents’
associations and community groups, once you have been elected, it may
be helpful to link with other Independent or like-minded councillors in
your local authority. Joining a group will help you to gain the maximum
number of seats on council committees, and increase your influence.
Green Party councillors can take further guidance on this and other issues
from the Party’s website at
This has been a short introduction to the big prospect of working as
a local councillor. It is hard work but nearly all local councillors find
it a very satisfying way of working on behalf of their residents. Being
able to make a difference counts, and you will have the opportunity
to shape and influence the way your local council works with local
communities to deliver the services and support communities need.
If you want to stand for a political party other than Conservative,
Labour, Liberal Democrat or Green parties, you will be able to get
information from the relevant party website, or through the Local
Government Association Independent Group.
National Independent Office
Local Government Association
Independent Group
Local Government House
Smith Square
London SW1P 3HZ
Telephone 020 7664 3224
[email protected]
If you want to stand as a Green Party councillor contact the national
party office and ask for the local party contact in your area. Other useful
contact details are also given on the party’s website.
National Green Party Office
1A Waterlow Road
London N19 5NJ
Telephone 020 7272 4474
[email protected]
If you want to stand as a Town or Parish councillor in England or as a
Community councillor in Wales, please visit the website of the National
Association of Local Councils (NALC). NALC has a very useful toolkit on
their website for prospective councillors.
National Association of Local Councils
109 Great Russell Street
Telephone 020 7637 1865
[email protected]
Whether you have been selected by a party as a candidate, or are
standing as an Independent candidate, you must make sure you are
officially ‘nominated’ as the election date draws nearer. This means
getting 10 nomination papers, each signed by a registered elector of the
ward where you wish to stand. These papers are available from your local
council’s electoral services department. You must also give your consent
in writing to your nomination.
All the necessary documents must be submitted 19 working days before
the day of the election.
NB: the rules and regulations may differ for Town and Parish council elections in England
and Community Councils in Wales.
For more information visit or
Leadership Centre for Local Government
Warwick House
25 Buckingham Palace Road
Tel 020 7630 2180