Top tips for new councillors

To help you hit the ground running, we have put together some top tips for newly elected councillors.

  1. Stay on top of your email – constituents are impressed by a quick reply, and once a backlog has built up you’ll be going downhill fast. And make sure you have a filing system to keep an idea of which cases you have not had a reply back from officers.

  2. Study the winning party’s manifesto – if you’re on the winning side, you’ll be challenged on what you’re doing to deliver; if you’re not, it’s your job to do the challenging. And check out the council’s corporate plan – it will give you a firm idea of what the priorities of the authority are over the next few years.

  3. Try to understand who runs your council – you may have a ‘strong Leader’, or an all-controlling chief executive, your council may be officer-led or member-led: you need to know where the power is. Go and have a coffee with the officers you are most likely to be dealing with – getting an understanding of who they are will be really useful over the next few years.

  4. Bury the hatchet and build good relations with your neighbouring councillors, whatever your politics you are likely be working together across the party divides over the next four years to help fix local residents’ problems.

  5. Make sure you’ve got a good photo on the council website, with your contact details: and don’t forget your surgeries – even if hardly anyone ever comes, the one you skip will be the one that someone especially in need of help turns up to. You might consider holding mobile surgeries – let people know in advance that you will be knocking and people are more likely to answer the door!

  6. Find out about your council committees – which make a difference, which don’t – and work out which you want to get on to (or avoid!). You will need to figure out which ones meet in the day time and which ones go on well into the night – a lot of your choice will be based on when you are available.

  7. Think about how you’re going to stay on top of new policies and emerging good practice – LGiU policy briefings and learning and development are a good place to start; the LGA is also a useful source of information.

  8. Go for a coffee with your local journalist – important to build some kind of relationship if you can, before they have some reason to chase you. Also have a look at local on-line forums – these can be a great place to find out what the issues are and many councillors frequently contribute.

  9. Make sure you know your council’s procedures in terms of recording Members’ Interests and declaring any entertainment or gifts you benefit from – they’re easy to keep up to date, but also easy to get caught out on if you forget. And remember that while the standards regime is less grueling these days, being caught out for not declaring a pecuniary interest is a criminal offence.

  10. Know your council’s constitution – the rules for debates, for asking formal questions, for inviting deputations or making petitions – or better still, get someone to tell you which sections matter, out of what may be a 200 page book.

  11. Make sure you’re getting LGiU’s services – briefings, the Daily News, and C’llr magazine. Ask your Member Services or email chris.naylor@lgiu.org.uk.

  12. Explain your new role to your friends and relations, ask for their sympathy, and cancel the rest of your life…