Most people’s impression of what a councillor does is that they just attend council meetings and nothing could be further from the truth. The duties and pleasure, of being a local councillor are many and varied, however it is the ordinary day to day contact with local people in their own community that is the most important part of being a councillor.
A Parish or Town Councillor signs a Declaration of Acceptance of Office and thereby undertakes to observe an ethical Code of Conduct when dealing with matters on behalf of the community. A councillor also completes a register of interests.
Listening: One of the most important tasks of a Parish or Town Councillor is listening to and understanding the views of people in their community. Many public bodies or organisations acknowledge this is the hardest information for them to capture and they in turn use the skills and local knowledge of the parish or town council for advice to assist and inform their services.
Meetings: A councillor agrees to attend all meetings (reasonably possible) that he or she is summoned to. In medium and larger councils along with full council meetings, there are further committee meetings or working groups. Most meetings are held in the evening but some committees and group representation may be during the day. Committees include planning, staff and salaries, policy and resources and general purposes. Each councillor is only expected to serve on one or two committees.
Representation: Town Councils also need representation at other local government meetings or on local bodies/organisations and councillors may be asked to serve on certain groups or attend functions on behalf of the town council. Councillors act as ambassadors for their community keeping everyone aware of local needs and concerns and reporting back on Unitary, County and regional changes.
Councillors represent the voice of their community as a whole, whilst being aware of and considerate to, specific minority needs.
Ceremonial Duties: In some larger councils there will be times when councillors are asked to attend civic functions as part of their duty to the community. This may entail Remembrance Parades, civic dinners or attendance at public functions to name but a few.
Extra skills: Through all of these functions councillors will draw on their own skills and experiences and it is the sharing of these skills that makes a strong team. Parish and Town Councils provide a focus for the community to identify concerns and projects and endeavour to solve them locally themselves. Councillors working as a team will need to deal with employment issues, budgeting, asset management, staff management, project management or grant funding and probably lots more if they are creative and involved. All councils must be aware and owe a duty to their community to manage staff considerately, whether it is employing one parish clerk or a whole host of office and grounds’ maintenance staff. Accounts must be kept and whilst the Responsible Financial Officer is employed to carry out this duty, councillors together as a team are responsible for the financial decisions made and implemented. The Town Clerk is employed to advise and seek advice on behalf of councillors to assist them in their decisions. Councillors are there to consider the information gathered and make a group decision on all matters. No individual councillor is responsible for any single decision. This is democracy at its best.
Training and support: Training is available to all councillors. Legislation allows for councils to pay for training and ongoing training for councillors is sound business management. The County Secretary for the Association of Local Councils in Dorset will provide details of professional training programmes designed specifically for councillors.
Responsibility: All councillors are expected to abide by the Town Councils Code of Conduct. Each local council must adopt and publicise a Code of Conduct. The Code deals with councillors obligations about their conduct, including the registration and disclosure of their interests. Complaints about councillors’ conduct are dealt with by the principal authority.
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