In Members we trust

Something for the Councillors to work their way through

Another guest post today; this time combining (in a slightly odd way) Sean Bean, buffets, outbuildings and our trust in local councillors. If you have anything you’d like us to put up on the site please send it to … But not before you’ve read the post below:

Growing up we all have people that we idolise, sports people, actors, pop stars etc. For me, about 5 years ago I went through a phase, or shall we say a mild obsession, with the 90’s historical drama Sharpe, based on the Bernard Cornwell novels. As to be expected, I was a very big fan of Major Sharpe, as played by Sean Bean. He seemed to be this amazing character who could take on the entire French Army single handed and always got the girl(s).

A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to meet Sean Bean, or more specifically hang around in his company a bit stalker-like, while he had lunch. To be honest, he was quite short and not as rugged as I had hoped, needless to say I was a little disappointed. The old adage, ‘never meet your heroes, you’ll only be disappointed’ was indeed very apt.

Sadly, I would apply that same advice to your local Councillors.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some individuals that do instil a great deal of confidence, and are highly intelligent, highly skilled, well balanced individuals. They are particularly adept at providing a strong strategic direction whilst supporting their officers and are universally respected amongst the local community. I would suggest however, that this is not the norm.

Just sometimes, members do provide just a little cause for concern. A colleague within my Council recently advised me that there was a statistically significant relationship between Councillor attendance to meetings and the provision of lunch. This has been proven on a number of occasions and in fact no matter what the event they are always the first in line for the buffet. The tired and hungry officers, witnesses, guests and members of the public always have to wait their turn, while the Councillors help themselves.

Now I don’t want to seem precious about a little food and drink, provided that our Councillors provide that representation and leadership that the borough craves. After all, they need to make those important decisions and support officers in their work.

Sadly though, the local planning committees seem to bring the worst out in them (this is a meeting without food). One of our committees recently made the decision to grant planning permission for an outbuilding on the basis that had been there for at least four years and was therefore immune. Nothing wrong with that I hear you say, other than the fact that the Enforcement Officer was able to provide a dated aerial photograph that clearly showed the building wasn’t there three years ago. The paper included a quote from one of Councillors stating that “Councillors have the right to make decisions as we see fit”. You simply can’t deny that’s the case….!?!

Now while I’m not going to lose sleep over an outbuilding, I am more than a little concerned that our members will be sitting down in March with a long list of budget savings, one of them (and a fairly small one) being my job.

I can only hope that the Councillors don’t view my measly salary as hungrily as the Chicken Wings which were available at the buffet and view the Service Impact document with a little more reverence than the indisputable aerial photo of someone’s shed.

Explore posts in the same categories: The future of Local Govt, We love the Council

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4 Comments on “In Members we trust”

  1. localgov Says:

    Great post! This is so true of my own workplace, where ‘will there be lunch’ is the question attached to every tentative meeting response.

    In fact, the lunchtime spots are the last ones to go these days, as no-one wants to either pay for lunch for participants or bear the brunt of them moaning about a lack of food for the duration.

  2. J.G.Harston Says:

    I would extend this to “don’t trust councillors who meet in public”.
    I know that seems the wrong way round, but at every council meeting I’ve been in from Full Council downwards, the ones that function properly and actually get down to doing the work in hand are the ones held behind closed doors like Licensing or Schools Admissions. The ones held in public like Planning or – God help us! – Full Council are entirely taken up with members pontificatiting and making political speeches to the gallery and scoring points against their opponents.

  3. Andrew Brown Says:

    It must depend on where your council as to how the culture develops. I was a councillor (9 years – liberated by the voters in 2006) in a borough where all the meetings were in the evenings and if we were lucky there’d be coffee, but never real milk. For those of us who were working as well as being councillors that meant getting on a train and getting to the meeting then working through to 9:30 to 10.

    The wider point about the variable nature of representation is one that is undeniable, but from the other end of the telescope the same is true of officers – there were certainly those who went the extra mile but I certainly knew a few that used every excuse under the sun not to deliver the services that my constituents were relying on.

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