COUNCILLORS STRESS IMPORTANCE OF LISTENING
Nine out of ten councillors believe listening to the views of local people is the most important part of their job. A new census of councillors has also found that while almost ninety per cent of them are motivated by a desire to serve the community many struggle to maintain a balance between politics and life.
The 2006 Councillor Census, commissioned by the Improvement and Development Agency and the Local Government Association, offers a snapshot of the backgrounds and attitudes of 19,689 councillors in England. It found that on average they spend almost ten hours a week in council meetings, 5.6 hours at external meetings and 7.2 hours with constituents.
They spend an average 21.9 hours on council and party business, which is a slight increase on the position in the last census two years ago. For councillors with senior positions the time spent is just over 25 hours a week and more than 13 per cent of members work on council business for more than 35 hours a week. Just over half of councillors also do unpaid voluntary or charity work.
One councillor, Mahroof Hussain, an Executive Member in Rotherham Metropolitan Borough summed up some of the problems councillors can face. “I am one of those councillors who are in a full-time job and trying to balance the work I do for the council and political party, with my home life. I work in excess of the average 22 hours on council work, often attending extra community and party events. Having a family and social life is very difficult.”
Lucy de Groot, Executive Director of the IDeA, said the census showed the incredible commitment most councillors made to their communities and how many struggled to maintain a reasonable ‘politics-life balance’. The LGA Chairman, Sandy Bruce-Lockhart, added, “Council performance is improving rapidly and councillors are committed to their important role in helping people fulfil their full potential. Attracting more dedicated people from all walks of life requires giving councils the powers to make local decisions so that local councillors really can make a difference to the lives of the people they represent.”
When they were asked which resources or learning opportunities they would find useful in their work, most councillors opted for training. Areas of concern they identified included IT or administrative support, case workers, political skills training, improved facilities for surgeries and better information on the role of a councillor.