Friday, 9 January 2015

The challenge of being a local councillor

Over recent years many councillors representing the traditional parties have lost their seats on the back of the anti-Westminster and anti-politics feeling that had swept the country. In Southend this has been demonstrated by the rise of the Independent Party and UKIP with candidates often offering little by way of policy other than “not being one of them” but still sweeping to success.

In local government this has often resulted in longstanding and hardworking councillors, who have always put the best interests of the community ahead of party, losing their seats and being replaced by large numbers of new councillors who have no particular knowledge or experience of local government and who do not have the benefit of the support and guidance offered within an established party group. I am not suggesting that anybody should have a seat for life and feel that regular doses on new blood is both healthy and essential but it does mean that some of our new councillors may not realise quite what an onerous role and responsibility they are taking on. It is easy to believe the criticisms of our elected representatives without realising the emotional input, time and effort many of our recently unseated councillors have put in for years.

This was brought home to me shortly before Xmas when I was picked up by a taxi on my way to a work social event. The cab driver was a recently elected UKIP councillor and we had a pleasant and constructive discussion about the town. However I was more than a little surprised when he mentioned that he had received a text from a party colleague earlier in the evening asking where he was as he had forgotten that the last full council meeting of the year had started at 6.30 pm. I asked why he had not gone and he seemed surprised that it was acceptable to arrive late.

The poor attendance record of some new councillors has been highlighted by others. I have no idea how much time they are spending on other council related activities but I would hope that having experienced the life of a councillor they have a better understanding of how difficult and demanding the role can be and that at times difficult decisions have to be made which even if unpopular are for the best interests of the community.

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