Room 123, Wandsworth Town Hall
One of the centres of Wandsworth democracy, room 123.

Today is #ourday on Twitter. It’s an old trick used by plenty of other organisations before, and highlights the astonishing variety of work often undertaken by councils but equally often unnoticed by residents. While there are a few using the hashtag for a bit of local government bashing I think there is huge value in illustrating how exactly how much a typical council does for its residents, individually or collectively, each day.

I’m sure there are plenty of councillors taking part, I will not be one of them but it has made me think about what a councillor actually is, and what residents expect of their councillors. In some whats it is easier to say what a councillor isn’t.

I am not responsible for housing allocations. I can take up issues with the housing department, but can’t get you a house any quicker or get you a bigger house than you’ve been assessed as needing.

I cannot really help with parking tickets. If they’ve been issued, you’ll have to go through the formal appeal process; I can guide you, but it won’t make any difference to your chances.

I’m not a schools admissions officer. Generally the schools themselves decide their admissions policy and they are applied scrupulously; as a parent I have to take my chances the same as anyone else.

I have no control over planning, I can represent residents at a planning committee, but the decision will be up to the committee I can’t get applications approved or rejected.

And these shortcomings can’t be rectified with cash, whatever you think about politicians.[1]

In short, as a councillor I have no power.

So what can I do? Well, I hope I have helped guide many residents through some of those council procedures and policies, sometimes successfully, sometimes not, but always ensuring they get a fair crack of the whip. And I hope I’ve ensured that issues are raised and fully aired, even if that sometimes means helping both sides of an argument or helping promote a view with which I disagree.

And, of course, I have been a part in approving those policies and–from time to time–shaping or creating them. But it’s always as part of a collective process. One of the strengths of local government is in that collective process: two heads are better than one, and in Wandsworth there are 60 heads all bringing different expertise and experience to the issues.

And if, after all that, you are wondering what attracted me to being a councillor when there is no power the answer is simple: I do it for the glamour.

  1. To be fair I’m only aware of two occasions in my fifteen years as a councillor when it seemed someone was offering me a bribe to get something done.  ↩

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