in Politics

What does a councillor do?

A leaflet produced by the City and County of Swansea on the different roles of local councillors

Swansea’s take on being a councillor (click to see full-size)

I’ve thought rather a lot about this leaflet from Swansea council since I saw it on the Localopolis blog in the middle of last month. Part of that is because, despite its simplicity, it’s a good assessment of what a councillor actually is (or could be).

But moving past the desire to self-evaluate I was drawn to a contradiction. As a councillor I’m most drawn to the campaigner role (though probably score poorly, at least publicly, on that): thinking to the few times I was on the judging panel for the LGiU’s Cllr Awards it was always the campaigners that tended to impress. They showed a passion and a dogged determination for their causes that got results. The problem was that those causes were often sectional, like environmental issues or aiding a small group within their community.

However, do most members of the public really want that? Aren’t they more interested in the caseworker, or the signposter? My guess is that you can put these six roles on a spectrum (probably in the same order as on the leaflet) and that’s what people expect of their councillors, and politicians generally. Whereas I’d probably rank them in the reverse order (except with a high-ranking for ‘decision maker’).

These roles aren’t exclusive, of course, being a campaigning councillor doesn’t mean you aren’t also a caseworker – though obviously there are limits on time – but it did leave me wondering if there is a mismatch between the expectations of the elected and the electorate.

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