So what does a councillor do?

I’m often asked what I have been doing as a city councillor.

My swearing in ceremony at the council, May 2014, with the Lord Mayor and chief legal officer.
My swearing in ceremony at the council, May 2014, with the Lord Mayor and chief legal officer.

This is a good question as the role has many aspects, not all of which are obvious:

case work for the ward; committees; council meetings, ….

Getting elected mainly involves letting everyone you can contact in the ward know that you will do a good job of representing them – that you’ll deal with casework when they want help, and that you’ll ensure their views are reflected as their representative. This is one part of the work and a major objective of the canvassing I did back and forth across the ward in the run up to May’s election.

Another is fairly obvious: being a city councillor means attending the Full Council meetings very few weeks. This is where all 70 councillors attend and the Lord Mayor chairs these meetings in a ceremonial role. Now that the city has an elected Mayor as well there are not actually many matters decided by the Full Council and I was frankly shocked at how little scope there is to reflect any detailed concerns at this meeting; most major items having been through Cabinet and scrutiny meetings are then going to be decided formally by the elected Mayor and the council is basically told “take it or leave it.” A few speeches, timed to 3 minutes per party group leader or representative, can be made but little will get amended. It’s more a place for making statements and asking some questions in the preceding Mayor’s Question Time for Members. There’s also a chance for the public to have their say, too, on items onthe Agenda (other places exist for more general questions), and a good deal of political posturing by the old parties, frankly. Most gets ignored.

I mentioned scrutiny. This is a key role as each area of council business has a commission to scrutinise its policies and programmes. I am on the Neighbourhoods scrutiny and we have a programme covering a range of services and functions that includes the work of Neighbourhood Partnerships, parks and opem spaces, cleaning and recycling, libraries, public health, various regulatory services, and more.
The work took months to get going but after 4 months it got underway. It’s a portfolio that covers so much of day to day life across the city and I’m pleased to say it’s been a very inclusive process to date. I have had input into a review day that will be looking at waste management and disposal – an issue I have a close interest in as at one time I was author of the city’s first statutory Bristol Recycling Plan. The day was billed as looking at new energy recovery and disposal technologies, but questioning revealed the recycling service and other options further up the “waste hierarchy” – ie reduction, reuse, repair, and recycling – all priorities before recovery of energy and then landfill disposal – has supposedly been looked at 5 years before. I therefore asked for the situation since to be covered before we assume we have to deal with disposal. A lot had changed and next year’s European Green Capital priorities in fact include repair and reuse for the city – we ought to make sure much more is done before assuming the remaining waste is not able to be reduced further in my view.
Other scrutiny functions include the council’s Place directorate, People functions, and Business change.

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