Sunday, March 25, 2007

Support for new Councillors

I have been quite critical of the service provided to new councillors in Liverpool within this blog, so it will come as no surprise to anyone to learn that I jumped at the chance to discuss some changes in the induction process for this coming year.

I met with the head of Committee Services and one of his colleagues to look at some of the improvements I would like to see for councillors newly elected this coming May - Labour ones in the main I hope.

I started with "Declaration of Acceptance of Public Office" which is where new Councillors sign to confirm willingness to serve and to abide by all the various rules and codes. Readers will recall how disappointed I was when there was no pomp attached to this important and significant moment. This will be rectified in future as Committee Services have agreed that it will be turned into a proper ceremony with witnesses and a photographer and a bit of a fuss. I am really pleased.

Then I moved on to the importance of casework and being able to hit the ground running in tackling cases straight away. We talked about the ongoing need for the council to buy a proper casework IT system and also that new members would benefit from some training in actually doing casework, tracking it and chasing it up and so on.

In a similar mode I explained to them how new Councillors need to be furnished with lots of contact details for all the council officers and other agencies that work in their area. So that if for instance you have a housing query, you know who to approach.

For members like me where I am the only Councillor from my party in my ward, there is no-one to ask about who the local police contacts are or which residents groups are operating etc so you spend a lot of time finding all these things out for yourself. This networking and discovery is very useful and a good skill to have but wastes a lot of time when you could have been pushing people's priorities forward so much more quickly.

They are going to look at creating a list for each ward so that when a new member is elected they can have all this information at their finger tips.

I talked about the council organising tours round the key buildings - Town Hall, Municipal Buildings, Central One-Stop-Shop, Liverpool Direct call centre and so on. It is useful not just as familiarisation but because if you have been to these places on a tour you can feel much more comfortable and confident about where you are going when you are officially called upon to go there.

On the IT front, which I have been scathing about, I did request that they get some spare laptops set up so that new members could be given them straight away instead of having to wait for the retiring councillor to hand them back in.

That surprised you didn't it.

You thought that for £2k a year per member, the IT contract with LDL must at the very least amount to a new laptop for each councillor, not a bit of it.

They are second hand, at best.

Our conversation ranged far and wide and if they take notice of all that I asked for then new Councillors this year should have a much better experience than I did, that makes me feel really good. I look forward to Wendy telling me all about as she goes through her induction!

4 comments:

Miranda said...

Hi Louise, having literally just got home from a fantastic weekend taking part in my third session of the Improvement & Development Agency's (IDeA)"Leadership Academy" I wholeheartedly recommend you asking your council to send you on the course too. It is fantastic to spend a weekend with other councillros from all parties and from around different parts of the country learning new skills and actually talking to other new councillors about life on their patch - they understand! :-) You can find out more by going to www.idea.gov.uk The other thing I'd strongly recommend your council investing in are a couple of good memebers' support officers to assist with casework and do a lot of the admin and chasing up for you if you don't currently have any members' suuport. I still can't believe some councils do not provide their elected members with any dedicated officer support. There is a big campaign being led by lots of the new and younger councillors to change this. If you want any more info on the leadership academy don't hesitate to get in touch!

Louise Baldock said...

Hi Miranda

Thanks for the comments

Liverpool City Council has two members on that course I think. Certainly Nick Small is on the course - he has been my mentor for the last year, not sure if I am allowed a mentor after the elections when all the emphasis needs to be on new members.

Also I think I am right in saying in the LibDems have a member on there too.

We do have members' services but I dont know whether they do casework for councillors. Probably. I prefer to do my own, as should all Councillors, but I do ask them to help me with some admin - I write the letters, they put them in the envelopes, that kind of thing.

Our problem is that our Committee Services people have been too focussed on teaching us about the nature of council democracy and how decisions are arrived at - all good stuff of course - rather than facilitating our representing the community we have been elected to serve. I trust this will change!

I am interested in your thoughts about what support the council should be giving to members in terms of serving their constituents.

What DO other councillors get?

Miranda said...

Take a look at this week's Municipal Journal which has an exploring these debates. I reckon Dame Jane Roberts, who's chairing the new councillors' commission, will be having a good look at all the issues you raise. She's done a "Let's talk" type session with London councillors, which I went to a couple of weeks' back. I think she's planning to do them around the country. It would be worth getting along to if shes coming up to your patch, I really enjoyed the London session.....In terms of members support, I too do my own casework but can ask for help ni terms of mail outs and admin A Labour colleagues in Kensington tells me she had to post out nearly 1000 letters herself last week - ridculous! We're exploring the idea of a dedicated officer for each ward who can help guide the ward members and can get quick answers on ward level issues. Manchester are currently piloting it. I will watching what they do very closely....

Louise Baldock said...

Sounds great!

We have 3 or 4 staff in Labour Group office (we are official opposition). They take messages for me for a start. I put their phone number on my leaflets because I am at work during the day so wont be around to answer my home phone. They then pass those messages to me the same day so that I can get back to people. I dont generally like giving out my mobile number because it costs residents more to phone me on that. It is on my business cards and "sorry you were out" cards though.

They sort out alternates for committees which is always helpful.

They will do mail-merges and print letters as long as they are not party political. They put things through the council postage machine so I dont have to worry about getting stamps, we do have a limit of so many a week we can send, they monitor all that too.

It is a bit like having a personal secretary and can be very useful, although I am always conscious of the fact that there are 31 of us so they cannot give us all a full service.

The staff in committee services are really there to send me information, rather than do anything for me.

They will inform councillors about committee meetings, minutes, agendas, notices, details of training we might like or events we should perhaps consider. They send out a weekly list of planning applications in the city for us to check. They also arrange our IT provision. They also organise new members' induction - hence my meeting with them last week.

They are very helpful if you are the chair of a committee, working hand in glove with you to organise the agenda, location, attendees, minutes and reports. A great resource, but not involved with back-benchers at all really.

The only time I asked them to do some research for me it created a big ripple and I dont think, looking back, it was ever completed. I wanted to know about how much renumeration councillors were getting on outside bodies, how much time they were having to put in and generally how many outside bodies we were involved with as a council.


I will look out for Dame Jane Roberts

best wishes and thanks, Louise