Local Government Assocation Councillors’ Guide

LGA – The councillor’s role

As a democratically-elected local representative, you have a unique and privileged position – and the potential to make a real difference to people’s lives.

However, being a councillor is hard work. Every day you will be expected to balance the needs of your local area, your residents and voters, community groups, local businesses, your political party (if you belong to one) and the council. All will make legitimate demands on your time – on top of your personal commitments to family, friends and workplace.

As a councillor you will have many different roles to balance. As the local elected representative you will engage with residents and groups on a wide range of different issues and take on an important community leadership role. At the council you will contribute to the development of policies and strategies, including budget setting, and you may be involved in scrutinising council decisions or taking decisions on planning or licensing applications.

Representing your local area

A councillor’s primary role is to represent their ward or division and the people who live in it. Councillors provide a bridge between the community and the council. As well as being an advocate for your local residents and signposting them to the right people at the council, you will need to keep them informed about the issues that affect them.

In order to understand and represent local views and priorities, you need to build strong relationships and encourage local people to make their views known and engage with you and the council. Good communication and engagement is central to being an effective councillor.

As a local councillor, your residents will expect you to:

  • respond to their queries and investigate their concerns (casework)
  • communicate council decisions that affect them
  • know your patch and be aware of any problems
  • know and work with representatives of local organisations, interest groups and businesses
  • represent their views at council meetings
  • lead local campaigns on their behalf.

Community leadership

Community leadership is at the heart of modern local government. Councils work in partnership with local communities and organisations – including the public, voluntary, community and private sectors – to develop a vision for their local area, working collaboratively to improve services and quality of life for citizens. Councillors have a lead role in this process.

Developing council policy

Councils need clear strategies and policies to enable them to achieve their vision for the area, make the best use of resources and deliver services that meet the needs of local communities. As a local councillor you will contribute to the development of these policies and strategies, bringing the views and priorities of your local area to the debate. How you do this will depend on the committees and forums you are appointed to. However, the council’s policy framework must be signed off by full council, on which every councillor sits.

Planning and regulation

Councils are not just service providers, they also act as regulators. As a councillor you may be appointed to sit on the planning and regulatory committee, considering issues such as planning applications and licenses for pubs and restaurants and ensuring that businesses comply with the law. In these roles, councillors are required to act independently and are not subject to the group/party whip. Most councils arrange special training for this.

Code of conduct and standards

As a councillor you will be required to adhere to your council’s agreed code of conduct for elected members. Each council adopts its own code, but it must be based on the Committee on Standards in Public Life’s seven principles of public life. These were developed by the Nolan Committee, which looked at how to improve ethical standards in public life, and are often referred to as the Nolan principles.

These principles apply to anyone who works as a public office-holder. This includes all those elected or appointed to public office, nationally and locally, and everyone appointed to work in the civil service, local government, the police, courts and probation services, non-departmental public bodies and in the health, education and social care sectors. All public office-holders are both servants of the public and stewards of public resources. The principles also apply to everyone in other sectors delivering public services.

All standards matters are the responsibility of individual councils, which are required to promote and maintain high standards of conduct by councillors. You must register any disclosable pecuniary interests for yourself, your spouse or a partner you live with, within 28 days of taking up office. It is a criminal offence if you fail, without reasonable excuse, to declare or register interests to the monitoring officer.

LGA – What does it mean to be a councillor?

What does being a councillor actually involve? And how rewarding can the responsibility be? Find out by reading the testimonies of serving local authority members.

LGA – Councillor’s Guide

This online resource is designed as a quick reference guide to provide you with the essential information that you need to know as a councillor. See here for the full LGA Councillors Guide for 2017/2018.