As a new member how can I meet the demands on my time from my electorate, party and council?
Well the short answer is that you probably can’t. These groups can create almost unlimited demands on your time. Short of giving up your job, running away from your family and having no personal life you are going to have to disappoint someone.
All of those involved with local councillors work on the assumption that their time is limitless. Well fisherman used to think that about cod in the North Sea and look where that has left us. If I could make one change to improve local democracy I would insist that very Chief Executive and Party Whip had a large sign above their desk which said ‘Member Time is not limitless we must use it wisely’.
Fundamental to this new approach is to have a working assumption about what is a reasonable contribution for members to make. To do this properly there are two very important pre-conditions.
This is NOT the same as asking current members use their time. Inevitably there is an element of talking up the job and whilst I love all members dearly there is the distinct possibility of a Political Parkinson’s law (work filling the amount of available time). Equally we need to work from the principle that whilst the executive role, particularly in the larger authorities, should be regarded as a full time role (and paid accordingly) for the vast majority of members the role is NOT full time. I know that many will disagree and point to exhausting work schedules. However we cannot hope to attract a wider range of candidates to the councillor role if we continue to have the attitude that there is no limit on the time commitment. It’s a bit like encouraging people to become magistrates and then saying they have to be on the bench every day.
For member time to become precious we will have to ask political parties and local councils to assess the demands made on members. It may well be that such a review, particularly around the quasi-judicial role, could make a good case for increasing the present number of councillors! For councillors themselves we should provide advice and support on effective time management and how they can prioritise community requests. I am confident that done properly many councillors could work less and achieve more.
I don’t expect this to be my most popular column for a lot of hard working members. However we have to move away from this Victorian Mill owner perspective where you only gained value by working your staff fourteen hours a day seven days a week. We all know that Britain suffers from a long hours culture. Let local councillors be the first to break this vicious cycle!!