Standing for Council
In order to become a local councillor you must be aged 18 or over, a Commonwealth citizen or a Citizen of an European Council Member State and must be registered to vote within your local authority or have occupied land or premises, or lived or worked in the local authority for at least 12 months before the nomination You cannot become a councillor if you are bankrupt, already employed by your local council or imprisoned for more than three months in the past five years.
Candidates must be officially proposed by someone in the council authority area and then be seconded and supported by another eight electors who live in the ward you intend to represent. You don’t need any formal qualifications or experience of local government to become a councillor. You don’t need to be in employment or a member of a political party, and you won’t receive a job description if you do become a local councillor.
Local councillors aren’t paid a wage because councillors aren’t employees of the council. They are however, given a basic allowance to compensate for their time and they can also claim expenses such as travel. Higher posts within the council, such as senior office holders are given a ‘Special Responsibilities Allowance’ in order to recognise their extra responsibilities.
Councillors are elected by the public in local elections to represent their needs every four years. They are usually chosen by the public based on their ideas on how money from the UK Government would be best spent in that local area. Having been elected, councillors are responsible for making decisions on behalf of their local community.
A local council is responsible for providing it’s local area with a range of different services and facilities such as:
Maintaining and developing new housing
Leisure centres and other recreation facilities
Parks and public places
Public bus routes
Schools and some colleges
Fostering and adoption services
Adult learning centres
Markets and stalls
Local councils spend billions of pounds every year in order to provide us with local services. This money is received from the UK Government, business rates and from council tax. Local Government does have a significant degree of freedom over what they spend their money on because most of the money they receive from UK Government doesn’t have to be spent on specific areas. This means local councils can spend a lot of their money on things they think their local areas need most. National policy is set by UK Government, but local councils are responsible for all day-to-day services and local matters. Some services local councils provide are mandatory and some aren’t, which means a local council can choose not to provide certain services it deems unnecessary.
In certain cases, UK Government ministers have powers to ensure local councils meet consistent standards within local areas in order to safeguard public health or to protect the rights of individual citizens. If local councils exceed their powers, they are regarded as acting outside the law and can be challenged in court.
Both Poole and Bournemouth Councils are unitary authorities, which form a single tier of local government, and are responsible for almost all local government functions within their areas. They are distinct from the two-tier system of local government which still exists in most of England, where local government functions are divided between county councils (the upper tier) and district or borough councils. Some functions can be exercised by joint boards appointed by the County Council and the Unitary authority which were formerly within their jurisdiction.
A leader elected by the council (normally from the majority party), with a cabinet of between 2 and 10 councillors either selected by the leader or the full council.
Each local authority has adopted a constitution – Poole Council Constitution / Bournemouth Council Constitution that sets out how the authority operates, how decisions are made and the procedures that are followed to ensure that these are efficient, transparent and accountable to local people. Each authority’s constitution should be available on their web site, at the local library or directly from the authority (a fee will most likely be charged for the latter). While constitutions don’t make exciting reading they do clearly set out the structure and political workings of the council as well as the responsibilities of the leaders and of the members and the rights of the citizen and, consequently, are worth being aware of.
The leader and a number of executive councillors (those with decision making powers) become the powerhouse of the council’s decision-making process within the cabinet. Anybody wishing to influence local authority policy must penetrate this inner sanctum. It is worth noting that this cabinet may be made up solely of members from the ruling political party group within the council i.e. that party which has the most councillors. The executive councillors are appointed either by the full council (i.e. all of the authority’s councillors) or by the leader. Each possesses a portfolio or responsibility for a particular part of the council’s services – such as education, social services or the environment. Decision-making on each policy area may lie either solely with the executive councillor or with the cabinet as a whole, depending on the constitution.
The Local Government Act 2000 requires the appointment of Overview and Scrutiny Committees. These are made up of non-executive backbench councillors and members of the public, such as people from the business sector and voluntary groups. There may be a number of these committees reflecting the portfolios assigned to the executive cabinet members such as education, environment and social services. The role of these committees is to hold the executive to account and scrutinise the decisions that the executive is about to take or has already taken. These committees are more likely to have politically balanced cross-party representation.
Most decisions will be taken by the executive councillors, debated and voted on at public meetings and based on publicly available reports produced by council officers. The full council has to adopt and agree the broad policy framework of the council including the budget, Development Plans, Best Value Performance Plans, Community Strategies and Local Transport Plan. The council will have a rolling plan outlining which decisions will be taken over the next few months and by whom.
In addition, policy can be agreed by passing Motions (once they are passed they are called Resolutions). Motions can only be proposed by councillors.
Whilst the democratic power lies with the elected councillors, the day to day running of the authority is the responsibility of the paid employees that is the Chief Executive, the Directors of each service area and the Council Officers. It may well be that the administrative and political structures of the council are to an extent reflections of each other. In addition to providing and running council services council officers also act as advisors to councillors providing expertise and information where required. Council officers will write the reports on which policy decisions are based.
Link to details of Bournemouth Councillors
Link to details of Poole councillors
Members of the public are entitled to attend full Council meetings. If you want to ask a question (it must be related to council policy), it must be given in writing (or email) to the Legal and Democratic Services Dept – Bournemouth firstname.lastname@example.org – Poole (email not on their site – info requested). Questions need to be submitted at least 8 days before the next scheduled meeting. Apart from pre-agreed questions, you are not expected (or allowed) to ask questions from the floor / balcony.
Going to your Area Committee gives you the chance to have your say, meet your Ward Councillors and get involved in decisions that affect your local area as well as the town. These meetings are less formal then Full Council meetings and you are able to ask questions from the floor but very area specific. Details for future meetings can be found in the links below:
Alderney, Branksome East and West Area Committee
Broadstone, Merley and Bearwood Area Committee
Canford Cliffs and Penn Hill Area Committee
Canford Heath East and West, Creekmoor and Oakdale Area Committee
Hamworthy East and West and Poole Town Area Committee
Newtown and Parkstone Area Committee
It is not uncommon for area meetings to be sporadic and cancelled. If you have an issue you want to be discussed by the Area Committee you are entitled to contact the Council requesting a meeting to be called.