Two weeks after the council elections in England 100s of new councillors will be getting to grips with what they’ve let themselves in for.
As potential candidates, some may have been to an event encouraging people to stand for election. Many will have been briefed by their party and its existing councillors. Some will still be in recovery mode from the glib assurance of a party official that “It’s just to make sure we’re on the ballot paper. We haven’t got a chance of winning in that ward”. A tiny minority will have convinced themselves that they’re embarking on a crusade to clean the whole sorry mess up without realising yet that there isn’t actually a whole sorry mess there.
All will be receiving some sort of induction, more or less thorough, more or less baffling. All will find local government finance challenging. All will be suffering from information overload. And all will struggle with the jargon.
That jargon will undoubtedly include reference to governance, partnership, stakeholders, engagement and much else of a similar nature
It will contrast starkly with what they came into local government to achieve and what they’ve been told by voters on the doorstep.
Back before the recession the Local Government Association commissioned research on what determines the reputation of a council. Their consultants, Ipsos-MORI, came up with 12 actions that were critical to ensuring a council’s reputation
- adopt a highly visible, strongly branded council cleaning operation
- set up one phone number for the public to report local environmental problems
- know your grot spots – and deal with them
- aim to remove abandoned cars and fly-tipping within 24 hours
- win a Green Flag award for at least one park
- ensure no gaps or overlap in council cleaning and maintenance contracts
- educate and enforce to protect the environment
- manage the media effectively to promote and defend the council
- provide an A-Z guide to council services
- publish a regular council magazine or newspaper to inform residents (this one will have taken a bit of a knock under the current Whitehall regime)
- ensure the council brand is consistently linked to services
- good internal communications – make sure staff and members are informed.
The LGA have developed and refined their recommendations on reputation since then but it would be interesting to know whether several years on, in the recession and with radically reduced resources, these are still the key factors that drive what people think of their council.
What better way to find out than the feedback that newly elected councillors received during their election campaigns?
In the absence of national collation of that sort of information, I asked a chief executive what issues her new members had picked up on the doorstep recently. Across all parties they said
- unkempt verges
- parking on pavements
- high council house rent increases
- worries about future cuts.
It’s easy to discern the similarities with the LGA’s list together with an overlay for obvious reasons of financial concerns. Not much about that jargon from the higher realms of democratic theory.
The chief executive cited above is Ruth Hyde of Broxtowe Borough Council. She’s one of the small minority of local authority CEs who use Twitter. Her Tweets are well worth following if you want to see what a council chief executive’s job is all about. And at present you can find updates on Broxtowe’s induction programme for new councillors – at @Relhyde