On Tuesday I was invited to London to meet with Grant Shapps. It seems that new and young councillors were being gathered together to help identify barriers that councillors face. Clearly I only met the criteria on new not young despite my new tag as “new kid on the block” in the local press.
The minister was especially interested in my experience of becoming leader after only two years as a councillor and asked me to speak on this to the other 20 councillors. Where do you start on a subject like that?
I was able to raise a number of issues:
On one hand government is promoting localism yet every so often it feels it knows best and issues an instruction from the centre to over ride local decisions.
Removing red tape is good but allowing it to creep back in is bad. Recent case law from Birmingham, around the issue of formal community impact assessments, is likely to take a good idea and then swamp local authorities with process and procedures.
The role of local councillors is not really understood. I represented the county council in a room full of unitary and district councils. We are very different beasts yet are thought of in the same way. The county council is responsible for over 1 billion pound of spending which dwarfs even the largest district council budgets. Our role as a strategic authority is growing not reducing. We are about to take on the responsibility for public health from the health service. This is huge.
My cabinet are effectively full time employees. I have been working 12 hour days for the last 6 weeks. No one is complaining but that is in stark contrast to ministers views about volunteers turning up for a couple of evening meetings a week for a couple of hours. If we want effective councillors, who have the ability and time, to make a real difference to how the council works we need to recognise this. Or do we only want people who are of independent means, retired or with no experience of managing a considerable organisation?