Town councillors can play a vital part in representing the interests of the communities they serve and improve the quality of life and the local environment. Furthermore, they influence other decision makers and in many cases deliver services to meet local needs. Town councils can make a tangible difference to the lives of those in the community.
It is a sad fact that unless you are particularly interested in the work of your local Council, the chances are that you will know very little about the work of a councillor - other than what you may have heard at election times and or read in the local paper. This article is designed to help you to understand the nature of the work of a councillor on your local parish or town council and to answer some of your questions.
There are no formal qualifications needed to become a parish or town councillor, a person is qualified if:
1. He or she is a British subject, is a citizen of the Irish Republic or other EU national and on the day on which he or she is nominated as a candidate, is over 18 and is an elector; and
2. During the whole of the twelve months preceding his or her nomination day, or the day of election, resided or had his principal place of work in the parish or town, or within three miles of it.
However the real qualifications are an active interest in their local community and a concern for it and a willingness to volunteer their time for the benefit of that community. The role of a parish or town councillor is an unpaid one.
You do not have to be a member of a political party, and most Parish and Town Councils are non-political bodies.
A person will be disqualified from holding office as a parish or town councillor if:
1. They hold a paid office or other place of profit in the gift of the Council.
2. They have been declared bankrupt in the past five years and have not repaid their debts.
3. They have been convicted of a criminal offence and sentenced to not less than three months imprisonment (including any suspended sentence) within the past five years.
The area covered by a Council is divided up into areas or Wards and councilors represent one of those wards. A ward may have more than one councillor representing it. Councillors, who do not have to reside in the ward they represent but must qualify for election as above, are normally elected for a term of four years. If more people wish to stand for a ward than there are seats then an election will be held and candidates will need to run for office. For those elected at a by-election or by co-option during the four year term, their term of office will be until the next election date.
The majority of serving councillors on parish and town councils are a broad mix of men and women of all ages and backgrounds. Whilst they may have differing political views these do not normally extend into their parish or town council work. Councillors take collective decisions, which form the policy of the Council. This policy will therefore reflect the views of the majority of the members.
In addition to attending meetings of the full Council, most councillors are also appointed to be members of certain standing or sub committees of the Council, which deal with specific areas of council business such as Finance or Planning. When work of a particularly detailed nature is required, a special sub-committee or working party may be established to handle the matter. The committees of the Council will usually meet in a cycle of meetings and at the end of each cycle the full Council will meet to confirm the recommendations made by the various committees and to take decisions for action.
The Council’s clerk is usually a paid officer of the Council and will advise councillors on their work. Clerks are employed to implement the functions and duties of the Council, as decided by the elected councillors who must act within the law.
Town Councillors must sign a declaration to the effect that they agree to abide by the Code of Conduct and register their business interests. Although the rules and regulations are important, the role of the Councillor is much wider than that. They are the voice for their local community and can work to influence the decisions of the other tiers of local Government and other bodies that influence community life.
It is possible to spend a lot of time on council work - but most people have jobs, families and hobbies, which also place demands on their precious time!
Generally speaking, the larger the number of electors the larger a Council's workload will be. Most Councils meet monthly, some bi-monthly, with meetings taking place on weekday evenings. The times of meetings vary, as do the venues, but most Parish and Town Councils normally meet during the evening. Before deciding to become a councillor it is important to find out the pattern of meetings of your Council and their venues to make sure you can accommodate them into your normal domestic and work arrangements. Nevertheless, unless you take on responsibility as a Chairman or Vice-Chairman of a committee your workload as a 'back-bencher' on the Council should not involve more than one or two evenings a month.
There are, of course, also outside activities in which the Council may take an interest, and you may additionally be asked to take a share of the duties in representing the Council on these external organisations.
The majority of council meetings are open to the public to attend and although you may not be able to participate you can see how things get done.