Sunday, 14 June 2015

Councillors are champions of the people - not employees of their council

I admit that I am curmudgeonly and can be "prissy" on such matters, but I have become increasingly irritated since May at the number of councillors who have happily changed their social media status to announce they now "work for" (xyz) borough council.

My point is that councillors do not "work for" the council any more than Members of Parliament work for the state. Councillors are elected by the people to represent the interests of the community; to set the political framework within which decisions are made and to hold to account the officers of the council on behalf of local taxpayers. Councillors are not, nor I hope ever will be, "employees of the council".

Whenever I run a training session for newly recruited council candidates I always make the point that councillors are first and foremost elected to represent the interests of the community in the council chamber, they are not there to become apologists for the council. As soon as they cross the Rubicon they lose their democratic legitimacy and authority.

I have no doubt that many council bureaucracies strive to make councillors part of the establishment, bedecking their political masters with municipal neck ties, embossed leatherette document wallets and engraved name badges, just as companies brand their employees to give them a sense of loyalty and ownership.  It is, after all, much harder to expose and criticise bad management if you see yourself as part of the of team responsible for delivering it. 

I am grateful to my friend Cllr Neil Garratt who sent me this prime example of how some councils and senior officers see elected representatives as part of the inner workings of the council, whose careers and ambitions need to be "planned and managed" rather than as elected representatives there to hold those same officers to account.

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