Becoming a Councillor
Councillors are the voice of the local community and represent local views and interests. Would you like to become a Councillor in the beautiful borough of Richmond upon Thames?
Why become a Councillor?
Councillors are at the heart of local decision making. The Council spends over £180 million a year of taxpayers’ money. It is the job of Councillors to make sure it is spent wisely. Residents rely on Councillors to represent their interests and ensure that they are getting the best possible service at a value for money price.
Whether it be education, social services, finance, planning, the environment or housing, there are many areas in which Councillors can get involved and have a real impact on services to the public. Policy is decided at both the national and local level and Councillors have the opportunity to scrutinise and comment on both types of policy.
What is the role of a Councillor?
The role of a Councillor is varied and demanding. As a Councillor you would represent the views of local people with a special emphasis on those in your own ward. Your role will also depend on whether you are in the majority party or in the opposition. Currently nine members of the majority party form the Cabinet, which is the principal decision-making body. Other Councillors are called backbenchers.
Councillors are a key component in setting policy, scrutinising service delivery and sitting on Committees such as Planning. At an equally important level is the carrying out of ward work and resolving problems for constituents.
Being a Councillor is a commitment and investment by you to improving the local area for residents, visitors and businesses. It is both challenging and very rewarding.
What is the role of a backbencher?
As a backbencher you can sit on one of the four Overview and Scrutiny Committees. It is their job to hold the decision-makers to account and be their critical friend. Although they have no direct power they make recommendations for changes in policy and working practice and can challenge Council officers and Cabinet Members to justify their decisions or consider different options. The more time you take to scrutinise topics and explore all sides of an argument, the greater the impact you can have as a backbencher.
Backbench Councillors may also sit on quasi-judicial Committees, for example the Planning Committee, which takes non-political decisions on the borough’s planning applications.
How long is the term of office?
All London Boroughs have full elections every 4 years. If a Councillor were elected in a by-election, they would serve until the next full election.
How much time would I need to invest in being a Councillor?
It is possible to spend a lot of time on Council work. It can be a challenge to balance this with having a job, a family and hobbies. Most of the meetings you would attend as a Councillor are in the evening.
An average backbench Councillor may spend between 5 - 20 hours a week on ward work alone. You will receive many emails and letters plus phone calls from residents, businesses and council officers. You will also need to read reports and other Committee documents in preparation for meetings. The Council does provide secretarial and research support in carrying out your role.
The full Council meets approximately 7 times a year and the meetings last for about 2 hours.
What experience do I need to become a Councillor?
The main requirement for being a Councillor is that you care about the local community and want to further improve Richmond upon Thames for future generations.
You are expected to dedicate some of your time to Council work and be willing to learn about the services and workings of the Council. Your knowledge and confidence will grow quickly.
What training and support would I receive as a Councillor?
To help you carry out your duties, you will be provided with a reference file including ward information and Council information. Officers of the Council both centrally and in the service areas will be able to provide you with professional support and information to help you understand and tackle local issues.
Democratic Services will provide you with administrative, research and secretarial support. Officers in the team are also responsible for co-ordinating your training and development.
On becoming a Councillor you will be provided with a computer or laptop (your choice) for your home, paid for Internet access and in most cases an additional telephone line. You will be using email, the Internet and Microsoft Office packages. Full IT training will be given and tailored to suit your needs.
Do I get paid to be a Councillor?
Councillors receive an allowance to reimburse time and expenses incurred while on Council business.
Councillors also receive a special responsibility allowance when taking on extra roles such as being in the Cabinet or being the Chair of a Committee. These vary according to the role.
You will also be reimbursed for any travel outside of the Borough that you might be required to do as part of your Council duties.
Please follow this link for more detailed information about Councillors' Allowances.
The electoral process
The process begins when a Notice of Election is published. This includes the nomination timetable and who to contact if you would like to stand for election.
After the nomination period, the Council will publish the names, addresses and description of the candidates. Just before the election there is a Notice of Poll, which contains details of the date of the election, details of the candidates and where to vote.
Can I represent a political party?
If you wish to stand as a political representative, you will need to contact and join the local political party. You will need to do this very soon as most will have started the selection process already. They will be able to advise you on their Councillor selection criteria. For more information on the political parties, look at www.richmond.gov.uk/political_parties.
If you do not wish to represent a political party, you may stand as an Independent candidate. If you wish to stand as an Independent, please contact the Electoral Services Manager on 020 8891 7196 or firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.
Qualifying to become a Councillor
To stand for election, you need to fulfil the following criteria on the day of election:
- You are over 18 years of age
- You are a Commonwealth Citizen, a citizen of the Republic of Ireland or a citizen of another Member State of the European Community
- You are registered as a local government elector in Richmond upon Thames OR you have lived or worked in Richmond upon Thames for the whole of the 12 months preceding the date of nomination OR you have owned property in Richmond upon Thames for the whole of the 12 months preceding the date of nomination.
You would be unable to stand for election for the following reasons:
- You are bankrupt
- You have a criminal conviction which has a minimum penalty of three months in prison within the 5 years preceding the election
- You have been found guilty of a corrupt or illegal practice within 5 years preceding the election
- You work for Richmond upon Thames Council or hold a politically restricted post with any local authority.
Electoral Services can provide detailed information on the nomination process. You may also wish to contact the Electoral Commission via their website www.electoralcommission.org.uk
The make up of Richmond upon Thames Council
Follow this link to see the current political structure of the Council
For further information about becoming a Councillor, please contact the Member Services Manager on 020 8891 7852 or email to email@example.com
For further information on the electoral process, please contact the Electoral Services Manager on 020 8891 7196 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org
This information is produced by Democratic Services, York House, Richmond Road, Twickenham, TW1 3AA.