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Guide: How to stand for Election - Information for Candidates

Part 5

Life as a Councillor

We have tried below to answer some of the most common questions about the councillor role.

The Basics

What is the term of office? County Councillors serve a four-year term. If you are elected at a by-election, you serve until the next scheduled Council elections.
How much of my time will it all take up? According to the commitments you take on, this can vary from a few hours each week to several hours each day. There are some facts and figures in the survey National Census of Local Authority Councillors) which you may find helpful. You will of course need to attend meetings at County Hall in Exeter and other locations across the County. Most of these are held during the day and so, if you are working, you will need an understanding employer. Many Councillors also represent the Council on one or more outside bodies. These vary from national organisations such as the Local Government Association and the County Councils Network through to regional bodies such as the Environment Agency or the Devon and Somerset Fire & Rescue Authority, and down to local organisations or charitable trusts.For most of the meetings you attend there will usually be an agenda and reports which you will need to read carefully beforehand. The people you represent will look to you for help in dealing with their problems, whether or not these fall strictly within the County Council’s remit. You are likely to receive a lot of emails and a great many telephone calls. Not every caller will telephone at what you might think is a reasonable hour!
How will I be contacted? You may be contacted by phone or post but most likely by email. The section titled ‘Computers and Communications’ explains what the Council provides for you in terms of IT equipment.
Is there training for Councillors? Induction and training for new and returning Councillors is given after the elections. This is alongside an on-going programme of learning and development. We are currently working on a new induction programme for new (and returning) Councillors, please contact Karen Strahan 01392 382264 if you want further information or a copy of the programme (available in the new year 2021). Of course, with the ongoing pandemic, the mechanism for delivery of the 2021 induction programme is still to be decided but we hope a number of face to face sessions along with webinars and / or virtual delivery will form the basis. If you’d like to know what committee and council meetings are like, you are welcome to view these. Our calendar of meetings is published on the internet. Meetings of the Council, the Cabinet and some other committees are webcast on the internet. All meetings are currently live streamed and can be viewed using the link on the agenda page for the meeting.

Support for you – These facilities and services could change according to decisions made by any new Council .

Will I have a secretary? No, not unless you become Chair of the Council or Leader of the Council. Cabinet Members will receive support from officers within the Services to which their portfolio relates.The Member Services Unit can provide some basic adminstrative support for all Members.
Will I have my own office at County Hall? No, although each political group has its own office and group room which you will be able to share. You will also have use of the facilities in the Members’ Lounge.
What expenses can I claim? Each year you will receive a basic allowance (currently £13,213) paid in monthly instalments. This is to cover your constituency duties, correspondence, telephone calls, attendance at meetings of the County Council, committees and other authorised meetings, attendance at seminars and conferences, outside bodies to which you have been appointed and Parish Council meetings.Details of the Members Allowances Scheme can be found in the Council’s Constitution at part 7. Certain ‘approved duties’ are eligible for travel and/or subsistence allowances.Some members also receive a Special Responsibility Allowance in recognition of particular duties they undertake (for example chair’s of committees). This is something that each new Council considers and decides upon. You may also claim a carers allowance in certain circumstances for engaging a carer for a dependant family member living at home (e.g. a child under 14, an elderly person or someone with a physical or mental disability) and / or childcare costs.
Support To help you carry out your duties, you will be able to call on information and advice from the professional officers of the Council. This is in addition to the assistance from the Democratic Services and Scrutiny Secretariat and Member Services as highlighted above.
The Democratic Services & Scrutiny Secretariat & Member Services Unit in the Legal & Communications Department These may well be the officers you see most often. They service Council meetings and committees by convening meetings and writing the minutes. They are generally responsible for keeping the democratic system running smoothly.The team is available to help you with queries about matters such as Standing Orders (the basic rules), allowances and declarations of interest. The unit also acts as a first point of contact with the professional side of the organisation and can help you with the drafting of resolutions, amendments and questions that you may wish to put forward at meetings. They can also make travel arrangements for any events that you may attend on behalf of the Council.
Scrutiny Team Scrutiny in Devon County Council is supported by a small team of officers , who provide research, advice, report writing and other support for elected Members’ scrutiny work and in particular for the task groups which Scrutiny Committees have set up to look at particular topics in detail.
Locality Officers There is one Locality Officer for each District, other than the City of Exeter. They can assist you with your constituency work, and act as a link to a variety of official and voluntary organisations operating in your area but their key role is ‘Community Planning’ which is one way of giving local people the opportunity to create a shared vision for their area and identify priorities for action which are agreed by a wide range of people, organisations and groups. They work with each of the District Councils in Devon. They were appointed to enable the County Council to fulfil its statutory duty ‘to prepare community strategies for promoting or improving the economic, social and environmental well-being of the County, and contribute to the achievement of sustainable development in the UK’ as part of the Governments modernising agenda.
Computers and Communications (What do we provide) The Council currently (although this is being reviewed) provides its members with a ‘Windows’ device’, running Microsoft Office 365™ products. This may be a laptop or hybrid device. Councillors will be provided with training in using this system and technical support from the Council’s staff. Much of the Council’s business is now being done by office 365, Microsoft Teams and Email and the Council regards this as the primary means of communication. It is vital that Members take advantage or they risk missing out on important information. Councillors need to be able to take full advantage of these systems to keep themselves fully in the picture.
Insurance The Council covers Councillors’ legal liability in respect of any claims that may be made against them as a result of carrying out their duties. We also provide a personal accident policy. However, please don’t get the impression that being a Councillor is a dangerous job!