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The role of a councillor

In May 2019 residents across Dorset will be electing their councillors for the new Dorset Council. This is a new unitary council which replaces the previous County, District and Borough Councils. The unitary council will have 82 councillors.

The elections are due to take place on 2 May 2019.

The role of a councillor

Councillors do not need any previous experience to become a councillor, they just need a genuine commitment to help their local community.

Community advocate

All councillors are expected to represent and champion the interests of the community, businesses and residents in their ward. By representing the views of local people, as a community advocate, they can ensure that local community interests are listened to. 

Other guides about the role of a councillor:

Casework

Councillors can help residents on specific council related issues (casework). As a councillor they will find that much of their time is taken up by contact with local people, in the form of dealing with enquiries or complaints. 

Their role is to listen, explain council policy and make sure that the policy has been carried out according to the correct procedures. They get help and support from council officers to deal with enquiries, requests for services and complaints.

Networking and communicating

Councillors act as a communication channel between the council and its citizens. They promote citizens' interests and needs to the council and assist the public to better understand the issues being addressed by local government and the services it provides.

In addition, through a councillor’s democratic mandate, they can build relationships between different groups, organisations and individuals to achieve solutions to local ward and county issues.

Councillors may also be nominated by the council to serve a wide range of organisations such as community groups and charities, or to represent the council on local and regional bodies. 

Decision making as a democratic representative

Councillors are responsible for the democratic decision-making at Dorset Council. At full council meetings they agree the council’s annual budget and important policies. In committee meetings, councillors make specific decisions on a range of issues.

Councillors oversee the successful, lawful and effective management of the council’s public resources and delivery of public services in the best interests of the local community and council tax payers.

Councillors are not expected to attend all the committees held by the council, just those that they serve on and any meetings of full council.

The new committee and governance arrangements have been agreed by the Shadow Dorset Council and are detailed in the Dorset Council's constitution.

The time commitment

Being a unitary councillor will require a time commitment to address residents’ concerns, reply to communications and to attend meetings.

Other calls on their time may involve:

  • attendance at local meetings
  • reading committee agendas and documents before the meeting
  • attending political group meetings
  • evidence gathering in respect of scrutiny reviews
  • engaging with learning and development opportunities
  • meeting with council officers
  • attending parish or town council meetings

A census of Local Authority Councillors found that councillors spend an average of 25 hours per week on council work.

Skills and knowledge

Councillors do not need any special or formal qualifications.

It is important that councillors not only represent the communities that they serve, but also have a wide range of backgrounds, skills and experience. The knowledge and experience they have gained through their personal and professional life are important skills to bring to the councillor role. 

The council provides a learning and development programme for its councillors. This includes key pieces of knowledge that councillors will need including information on how services work, understanding the council’s budget and legal considerations that the council has to comply with. Some training is compulsory, for example, if a councillor serves on a regulatory committee such as planning or licensing.

Personal conduct and financial interests

The way in which councillors conduct themselves in office, particularly over matters where they have a financial interest, is governed both by the law and by a code of conduct.

Councillors have to sign a declaration stating they will observe the council’s code of conduct.  They have to declare certain financial and other interests which they may have and can't take part in decisions if they have any related financial interests.

The term of office

The first term of office for the new unitary council is five years from May 2019 to May 2024. At the end of the five years the councillor’s term of office expires and they may stand for re-election.

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