26 April 2018 by Guest blogger
With local elections coming up across much of England on 3 May 2018, volunteer and former local councillor, David Martin talks about the best ways to engage with your councilors.
Often people see their local Council as remote and not particularly responsive to local issues. But after all, it is local people who vote every few years for their Councillors, and if people lose their trust in the Council, irrespective of which party they represent, this means that local issues are not being dealt with in the best way. Therefore, Councillors can be very responsive to public pressure, especially with well-presented arguments that have lots of local public support.
I used to be a councillor in Bath and North East Somerset. Here are my top tips:
1. Make sure you know which Council is responsible for the issue you are raising
In Unitary Authorities, there is one tier of local government responsible for all local functions. Where there are two tiers of local government, usually a County Council at the top and then a District, Borough or City Council as the second tier, responsibilities are split. County Councils are responsible for issues such as highways, transport and strategic planning, whereas second tier Councils deal with, e.g. housing and planning applications, and local parks. Rights of way, roads, paths are all the responsibility of the highway authority. But access to, for example, new housing developments, will be for the second tier Council to deal with.
2. Check if the Council allows the public to attend and speak at Council meetings
Full Council meetings are held usually 5-6 times a year, and are quite formal events with a strict agenda and time limits on proceedings. However, public speakers are encouraged to give a short statement about a matter of concern, which the relevant Councillors in the Cabinet should take note of, and later respond to in writing with comments or promised actions.
3. Identify other public speaking opportunities at Council meetings
Councils will also have a number of scrutiny panels or committees to deal with specific policy areas. Public speakers are also encouraged to attend these open meetings, which are a little less formal and could include the opportunity for the speaker to engage in questions and answers about their statement. Environment and transport panels would be an obvious target for raising concerns by walkers. Often a written response is also given to the public speaker.
4. Check the process for submitting petitions to the Council
These can be done either at a full Council meeting, or at the relevant scrutiny panel or committee. Again, the process would normally involve a short statement plus handing over the petition with lists of names and signatures. It is also important to ensure that the people signing the petition actually live in the Council area, by recording addresses. The Council would normally respond in writing to the lead petitioner after the meeting.
5. Find out if your local Councillor has a regular surgery
Some, but not all, Councillors hold surgeries in their ward for people to call in to discuss their concerns. Often no appointment is needed, just go along and wait your turn. Be clear about what you want to say, if possible bring evidence of the problem, and explain how the Councillor can help to resolve the problem. Ask for feedback, and chase the Councillor up after a reasonable time period to find out if anything has been done.
6. Contact your local Councillor directly
Email, phone and sometimes their home address, are listed on the Council website. Letters can be more effective than email, and if the home address is not listed, send your letter ℅ the Council offices. Again, follow up until you get the response you need.
These different lobbying and campaigning methods can go a long way to persuading and alerting the Council to problems. Other approaches would include peacefully demonstrating outside the Council offices, and involving your local MP and other local groups in a wider campaign. Good luck with your campaigns!
We’re asking all local councilors to sign-up to our Charter for walkable towns and cities. So why not contact your local councilor and put these tips to the test today?
David Martin joined the Ramblers in 2017 as a local organiser. He lives in Bath. Local organisers are volunteers who support Ramblers groups with local and national campaigns and raise the profile of the Ramblers locally. Find out more about local organisers here, or get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org.