A Councillor’s Life: Trees, Bins, Visions

‘How much time do you spent on your council work?’ people often ask me.

‘Oh not so long, a few hours here or there,’ I generally say.

But is this really true? As it is European Local Democracy week I decided to write a blog about today – probably pretty typical for a district councillor.

I’m in the office early on Monday morning as I know I have two meetings later on, so need to work early and fast on my day job so I don’t get behind. I work full-time but fortunately have the flexibility to catch up at weekends and evenings.

This last Saturday I picked up some case work during our monthly street councillors surgery. So first of all I phone the council offices to speak to someone about some overgrown leylandii on council land overlooking an elderly resident’s bungalow, which is causing him some distress. The two officers dealing with that are not available but I get their email addresses and give the resident a quick call to say I am dealing with it.

Quick look at my councillor emails. I’m juggling about four work inboxes plus this, so am constantly trying to catch up with emails. I’ve also a ton of papers to read for Thursday’s committee meeting but those will have to wait until later.

Text another resident to arrange to go and look at the front of her house, as she is trying to persuade the council to give her a bag for her recyling instead of a wheely bin and she’d like me to see the space as she says it is not suitable. I’ve already had an exchange of emails about this with the officer in charge and other councillors.

Rushed lunch, rushed work emails, then a 20 minute drive to Stroud for a 3pm meeting about sheltered housing with other councillors and senior officers. I’d met with residents of one scheme the week before, various issues have come up, and the situation needs resolving. We discuss the issues and agree on a course of action – communications are all important – but it is nearly five before we are done and I’ve a second meeting at 6.

Looks like my idea of popping home to see the kids and make their supper before heading out again is not going to happen. Text them to say I’ll be back late.

On my way down in the lift I chat to one of the officers who was in the meeting with me.

‘I don’t envy you,’ she says. The issues we have just been discussing are quite sensitive, and it is true this past week I have felt caught in the middle between residents and officers. Officers have a job to do, providing services to local people, and carrying out projects to improve the life of our local district – most of the time this goes smoothly. However, as a councillor, you develop a sort of ‘political nose’ when you realise something, perhaps quite small, is going to go down badly with local people. I guess that comes from being so much a part of the life of the ward we represent, and I guess it is how we end up as councillors, because we see the political in the everyday things around us, and want to do something about it.

Talk through various local issues with my two fellow Labour councillors while we wait for the next meeting.

At six we meet with Green and Lib Dem councillors to discuss how the cooperative alliance is going – we’ve run the administration together for four years and following the May 2016 all-out elections we have four more years to go. We have a good free-ranging conversation about what our vision is for the district, and what are the challenges ahead, given that local government funding is being so squeezed by central government. Local transport, arts and culture, jobs and growth – we make a good start at identifying some key themes.

I take notes and will type them up tonight as several of those supposed to attend could not make it. We’ll need to meet again to give some detail to our ideas.

On the way out I bump into the officer I’ve been emailing about the wheely bin, and we have a long chat about what happens when local people feel they should get a bin instead of a bag, or vice versa. I understand a lot better what the criteria are for officers agreeing to change the original decision. I’ll see on Wednesday if this will work for the woman who has contacted me.

Finally, home via the supermarket as my daughter wants me to buy some obscure ingredients for making a green ‘power shake’ whatever that is. I meet fellow councillor Paul Denney as I’m staring at the pasta sauce thinking buying a jar will be quicker than making my own. He’s doing his own quick dash round the aisles. Thanks to him I end up buying vegan Greek-style cheese. The one called ‘Gary’ apparently. As you can’t call it cheese.

I’m home by 8, and head for the kitchen to start cooking before I’ve even taken off my boots and coat.

The day finishes with typing up notes from the meeting, and preparing some follow – up emails from the housing meeting earlier today.

A glass of red wine goes down a treat and the trading of daft jokes with the kids over the dinner table.