You do not have to be a member of the big three political parties to stand, you could stand for another party or be an Independent Councillor. If you'd like to find out more about being an Independent Councillor or standing for a smaller party that isn't Labour, Conservative or Liberal Democrats get in touch.
Be a Councillor virtual event series
Following the success of the 2021 virtual Candidate School, we are very excited to be holding the Programme again for candidates running in the 2022 local elections. To sign up for further information, please visit the Candidate School Programme page.
An introduction to Being a Councillor
This event for prospective candidates included a presentation covering an introduction to being a councillor and standing for election, followed by an opportunity for a Q&A session with a panel of experienced independent councillors.
- Webinar transcript
Cllr Marianne Overton: Right, good evening everybody. It's a real joy to be here and I hope you're finding it interesting as well. Looking forward to a really good session. I think we've got lots of really interesting people that you're going to enjoy hearing so looking forward to that. So, first of all just to let you know what, what we're going to be doing, we're going to be look-, having firstly some-, a presentation and that will include several speakers, then a little bit from each of those speakers and then question and answers. So, there will be an opportunity for you, so don't worry about that. We'll be getting there. My name is Marianne Overton, I'm leader of the Independent Group at the Local Government Association and I'm a county and district councillor in Lincolnshire and North Kesteven District Council. So, I came into this when we had a big argument about getting a bypass, we desperately wanted a bypass for one of the villages as it was really blighted and we couldn't seem to get any support and then we realised that people power was what counted and we discovered that, got working, got a bypass and then subsequently got elected. So, it's a, a really good opportunity I think to think you can do so much yourself locally but if you want to do more you need to work with the council and then you can work through the LGA nationally as well to get more done for your communities. The Local Government Association Independent Group is one of four at the Local Government Association and that means that we cover the whole of England and Wales between the four of us. So, we support all councillors in the Independent Group that are not affiliated with the Labour Party, Conservatives or Liberal Democrats, so we do include the smaller parties but all of our parties focus very much on not having a party whip and focus on what residents need, and that's the big difference.
We have over 2,800 members, 2,800 elected councillors. That's a lot and that's not counting parish council, that's from district level up and in-, nationally we do include the Green and the smaller parties. We provide a voice at national level and that's very important, it works within the LGA to ensure that the values and interests of its members are promoted so we are a membership organisation and that's why what elected councillors, what people like you think and reflect from your communities is so important. The-, when we get to questions I hope you'll be kind enough to put your questions in the Q&A because that way we can make sure that they are well-managed and I think that you'll find that that's very useful. So, I hope there'll be plenty of engagement as well. So, again, to firstly hear about-, firstly have a look at the slides, so I wonder if we can just open up that and I'll just ask the panellists if they're there to introduce yourselves as we get to them rather than trying to do them all at the beginning. So, firstly, moving on then the Be a Councillor, this is the-, all the things that we'll cover. We're going to be talking about what's evolved so that you can get to a strong situation, your responsibilities and requirements about being a local leader and the point about being a leader in your communities, which you are already I'm sure but this is another way of actually using the position to support the-, your communities in that way. What you might think of is the ideal councillor, what you need to know if you're going to stand and where to go for more information. So, by the end of this session I'm hoping that you'll have a pretty clear idea about why you might want to be a councillor and what you can bring to your communities and also how to do it. So, let's, let's begin.
So, there are many types of councils and just to, to run through because it can be a bit confusing, there are councils that are parish or town councils and those are-, tend to be members of something called NALC, the National Association of Local Councils, and not this one. So, the LGA deals with some of the larger towns, certainly cities, boroughs, districts, county, metropolitan, unitary, so we deal with all of those above-, basically above parish council level. So, each area is-, each of those areas is divided into wards if it's a district council and into divisions if it's a county council and each of those areas has one or more councils to represent each ward. So, some of them are single-member wards and some are two- or even three-member wards, and some are even more which is quite complicated but usually not more than three. All councils are led by the elected councillors and it's the-, that's the point about democracy in our councils is that we're elected and therefore we have to set the vision, the direction and the, the money, make sure the money is available to support that. So, it's very much about a democratic strength in our councils. If you're putting money into a central pot into the council, into a central pot to provide services for the whole area you want to be sure that that council is representing the whole area and representing people like you and that's why it's important also to have a strong diversity of different kinds of people with different backgrounds, different interests to make sure that we have those on the council properly making sure that all our members are, are represented, members of the public are represented properly by the council.
So, many councils nowadays have a cabinet that are elected by the council and they get to make a lot of decisions within the framework that the whole council has set, so the whole council sets, as we said, the vision, the direction and the budget and then the executive that sits-, they're called 'the executive' who sit on a cabinet, they make those decisions within that framework. Many other councillors therefore look at what is being done and also make proposals about what should be done, so other councillors are much more about thinking, developing ideas, looking at what's happening and working to get better solutions and some councils still have a committee system but they are in the minority. So, moving on. Central government has some influence and control and some local government funding, so the, the point here is about how much of our services are governed by central government and how much are governed by local government and what we want to make absolutely certain is that it is local government that is, is the one that's trusted and respected best in the community. That's what we've found but central government has a certain amount of control which we are trying to diminish at every step. We'd like to make sure that there's much more local control over all of our services. So, we can be responsible for a whole range of services and I think they, they are listed there and they'll be things that you will have come across. Okay, thank you. Next slide. So, I'm going next to Who can be a Councillor? I think-, I'm just trying to check. I'm not sure what slide number we're on but I think I can do this part. Yes, Who can be a Councillor? This is actually quite important because there are-, it seems like anybody can be a councillor and it should be, the whole idea is that our elected representatives are people like us and so that we can actually put-, we can be-, we can put them forward, we can be represented there but there are one or two restrictions and they're not arguable.
So, you do have to just check that. For example, if you work for the same organisation that you want to stand on, so that could be a no-no and a colleague of mine was actually elected and then she was a, a peripatetic music teacher for the council service and she had to resign and then rest and so some of those rules are, are not negotiable, so just watch those but make sure that you are within your area. And there is-, there is a list of those who are restricted, one of them I've just mentioned and the other one is if you've been sentenced to prison for three months or more in the proceeding five years. So, these things are not arguable. If you've been sentenced for two months then you're alright or if you're more than five years and it has therefore, you know, been-, that, that conviction has then fallen off the list. So, there are some things that are-, clearly you can't do but for the vast majority it's very much the whole point is that we have a range of different kinds of people who come forward. Okay, I'm now going to hand over to Gillian Ford. Gillian, Councillor Gillian Ford is from the London borough of Havering and she's going to take you through the rules and responsibilities of being a councillor. Thank you, Gillian.
Cllr Gillian Ford: Thank you very much, Marianne, and I think it's fair to say when you look at the screen here there, there is no one, one size fits all of who becomes a councillor. There, there may be different reasons. It, it could be a single issue that you have over development that is taking place in the area that you're unhappy about, it could be that you want to contribute more to the community and the policies that you think the local government have got in place you're not happy with and you want to influence and make a difference there. But for me back in 2002 I became a, a councillor. I was 40 years old and I was a female in the council chamber and as you can see from the states within this slide females are still under-represented within the council chamber, as are BAME communities, and the, the council should be reflective of the community that it's representing. So, my role and journey into becoming a councillor was entirely different to what you'd see on here and will be probably more different to what, what you're intending to do. Mine started back in childhood when I used to go and stay at my parents' friends old people's home and I used to go and give them teas, coffees and everything and community engagement. When I was sixteen I was elected as Crown Carnival Queen and I was asked to go on a committee representing young people and I did that and the idea we, we were raising funds for a local community centre and in that process I got engaged with the community, got engaged with people. I then became a school governor when my children went to school and then I was approached by the Residents' Association if I were to go on their committee because they'd seen I'd been active in the community and then the rest is history. They asked me to stand as a councillor, I got elected and, whoa, here I am a councillor and I haven't looked back. Thank you, Amy.
So, to, to be a, a councillor it's a real opportunity to, to make change and difference to, to your local area and it's a very, very varied role and you, you are there representing the electorate and that can be their voice that they can't share and raise in any other format. You will be making decisions about council services and that can be almost, sort of, dealing with front line issues. It, it, it could be bus service that's not running anymore, it could be children's SEND provision and, and the transport system for the-, for the SEND children. So, it can be real critical down to earth stuff and you could be looking at developing council policy and, and that is looking at how you can affect and change be it the school SEND transport system. And some councillors will go on to become cabinet members, will be lead members and will have more substantial roles in policy development but there is always a role for the backbencher and within any council there's a scrutiny process and that backbencher, that councillor has that duty and opportunity to question, to challenge and make a change to the policy that the administration or the leaders of the councils have put in place. Another fundamental piece of work that you have is setting of the budget and you will all be aware, you've seen all the figures and stats in the news of what's taking place currently with COVID and you will be front-line looking at those figures, looking at how and where areas of funding needs to be put into place to improve and to help a service being delivered. And there's the engaging in the local community and that can be working with the local police force, what, what activities are taking place locally? Are there drugs issues in the area, is that something that you need to get involved with and raise with the, the relevant people within the council?
And then you've got the casework and the casework can be anything from the pavement outside somebody's house that's causing them grief and a problem because Fred, their neighbour, fell over or it can be something as critical as somebody who has a niece and nephew in foster care and there is the suggestion that they are being sexually abused. So, the whole range of casework can be so, so diverse and you really don't know what's going to come your way from one day to the next. Thank you, Amy. So, there are some statutory requirements and responsibilities that you have and you do have to attend full council meetings. You, you have to attend those and there are a certain number of meetings you have to attend a year. You can automatically be written off of being a, a councillor if you haven't sent in apologies for non-attendance and it, it has been known that there are councillors that do take the money and don't turn up and then they can be removed from being a councillor and in, in that role. And, obviously, you have to act responsibly. You are there as a public face and you're an advocate and you cannot stand there and abuse and rant at councillors within meetings and indeed the public. You will get abuse back possibly but it is-, always has to be in a democratic way that you deal with the, the, the person that is-, has an a grievance because from their perspective this is the be all and end all and you've got to try and work with them to see how you can solve the problems that they're facing and then you have to adhere to the standing orders and protocols, and codes of conduct. Every council has its own constitution, within it there will be rules and regulations of expectations, there will be a process when a council meeting starts where you address through the chair or the leader, whoever is chairing that meeting and it is not a confrontation from councillors to councillors across that council chamber and the same will apply on any other committees that you serve on as a representative of being a councillor.
Thank you, Amy. So, councillors are not salaried, we don't get a, a, a, a pay rise the same as everybody else in that, that sector, although there will be an allowance and that will be variable from authority to authority. So, you would need to, to have a look at the constitution that should have all that information and details in there. Some of you may also have the additional challenge-, sorry. Excuse me, somebody sent something to print. I need to turn that off. Some of you will have additional challenges having a job to hold down which, which can be a challenge but employees are-, sorry, employers are bound to provide some time for you to undertake your role so that you can fully engage in that process and it may be that if you are working there will be some committees that you may not be able to sit on, so that would be once you are elected working with the other members to see what committees you can, can attend within the time frames of your work programme. And there's also-, there were people with disabilities, there, there is nothing to prevent somebody from being a councillor just because they have a physical disability or a mental health disability, so it's looking and working with the authority and getting the support of them and it may be there needs to be some little tweaks to things to help you in your role in, in continuing of being a councillor. I think if you're somebody that enjoys making a difference, likes getting involved and seeing that change you are absolutely the right person to undertake this role and it can be something from making that impact on something as small as the elderly couple I had on one occasion of a planning application next door to them. They were all upset, they didn't know how to deal with it. I worked with them and they were happy and fortunately we actually got the planning application changed to help make their lives easier.
And it can be something as critical as sitting on the adoption and fostering panel and finding a, a home for a child who has been abused within the family network but now we've found them a forever home where they're going to be comfortable and I have to say being the voice of somebody who has not the opportunity of sharing their voice in any other format. So, you need to be somebody who gets out there and can get involved and perhaps you're already a member of local groups and associations, which is brilliant because people will know who you are, they can see what you're capable of and you start to get your name out there of what you can do and how you can make that difference. And it would be really good to get a good understanding and knowledge of your area and that includes the demographic makeup of your area, where you see the little pockets of deprivation, where you see the pockets of affluence and just the middle, middle range of houses that may have some street problems, etc. You need to know where the local schools are because that will have an impact if they're, they're maintained schools, you will have responsibility for those as well. And hospitals, business communities, the police stations, GPs, all of those things map out where they are so you get a better understanding of what your ward would be as and when you are a councillor. And finally I think you've got to be somebody that is capable of justifying the actions you're taking, capable of explaining to people why those actions are taking place and you've got to be aware that you can't let residents down by not acknowledging anything they send to you, any questions they ask you. You are the one they've come to, they're coming to you for support and that's all they're asking is for that response. Sometimes you have to be honest and say, 'Look, hands up. This is something the council cannot deal with but can I suggest?'
And you can give them some advice of where to go to and alternatively-, sorry, and sometimes you cannot solve the problem because the-, it, it just won't work but you need to explain to the resident why that's not going to work. So, if you think you can do that I think you're up for the job. Thank you.
Cllr Marianne Overton: Thank you. Thank you very much, Gillian. We're going to handover next to Hannah Dalton who's a councillor from Epsom and Ewell. Hannah.
Cllr Hannah Dalton: Thanks, Marianne. So, thank you everyone for joining this evening. Yes, I'm a councillor in Epsom and Ewell. We're the smallest of one of the eleven district and borough councils here in Surrey. We're resident association led and have been since 1937. So, quite possibly one of the longest standing independent councils currently in the UK. So, I'm going to just talk about process about how to get elected. So, next slide please. So, the first thing is nominations. For the elections in May 2023 you'll need to submit a completed set of nomination papers by the fixed date, which is fixed by the returning officer, and it's 4:00PM on the nineteenth working day before the poll. So, for next year that's going to be Thursday 8th of April. The start date of when you can submit your papers, the time and place for delivery will be set out in the official notice of the election, and you can obtain those election papers from your, the office or the Electoral Commission. When you get those papers, it's likely that you might have some questions around how to be completing them. They're meant to be fairly obvious, but they're not always. So, don't wing it, do ask the local democratic services of the council if you have absolutely any questions. The other thing is you need to get it signed by signatures of ten registered electors from the ward you wish to stand in. So, they must live where you're going to stand. So, a bit of advice on this one. Print the papers that each person is going to have to sign, because it's one document, and get a few copies of them. The very first time I stood, in May 2015, I went to get my papers signed, and I explained to someone three times what they needed to do. They were the penultimate person to sign. They did it wrong, and I had to go back to the preceding eight people on a Sunday night and get them to sign the papers again.
So, my big learn of that one was get a few copies done, it's much easier getting people to sign the same thing a few times than have to go right back to the beginning. So, next slide, please. You can start your campaigning any time, the sooner the better, and I have one colleague who's a standing councillor, and he always says to me, 'You start your campaign the day after you've been elected,' so to some of us we should have started three years ago, but think about now, about the issues and what you can be saying, what's going on locally? One of the reasons I decided to stand was in my ward, in Stoneleigh, we have a 1930s station which has over 140 steps from the street onto the station platform, which means anybody with a disability, anybody with a pushchair or heavy luggage, it really is difficult to get onto the station, and I've got very hurt by it, very passionate about it, and so before I even stood in May 2015, I was already campaigning about that and getting my name out there. So, have a think about what those issues are that people are going to be thinking about now, because actually what you want people to know is that you're interested and care now, not just, sort of, in April when you have a manifesto going through the door. Know the Electoral Commission rules, and you can find them all online, and I'm sure Sarah will be putting them in the chat. There are election spending limits that apply from the day after you officially become a candidate, be clear on what they are, and absolutely keep a record of all your spend, and then the other thing is just to think about your campaign and what communication tools you're going to use.
So, for example, social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, blogs, are really excellent, but you want to be doing that now. It takes time to build followers, it takes time to get your message out there. I've been working on a separate campaign here, and we've learned that people don't just gravitate to your page, it takes time.
Think about traditional media, although there aren't many local papers, or not as many local papers as there were, you'll often still find that they're there and they're looking for stories, and, you know, if you're doing litter picks, or you're down at the station doing petitioning, I know that the local press photographer was really keen to come and get photographs of what we were doing, because actually they want to fill their papers with interesting stories. Look at letters, look at newsletters and how you can be using those. For example, my residents' association has a quarterly newsletter and as a councillor we're always, I'm always putting articles in there and updating people on what I'm doing, and at this time of year it's a fantastic time to do a, 'Look what we've done this year, isn't it great?' So, think about how you can be using that as a candidate perspective. What story could you be getting out there now about something you're interested in? Attend local events, it's really important that people see you out at things, that you're interested in things. Obviously in COVID times that's harder than it has been, but, you know, even going for a regular walk in the ward that you want to stand, getting to know people, people knowing you, it's really incredibly important and it gives you gravitas. The last thing is door knocking. Obviously, the last few months, that's not anything that any of us have been doing. So, we've all been waiting for the guidance on this, it's going to come out in January next year, to find out more information around that. So, do look out for that once it's available. Next slide, please. So, things you can do during the campaign. You can encourage people who are not on the electoral register to apply for registration. It's a really great thing to do.
I wouldn't ever advocate, though, that you spend 20 minutes of your time on a doorstep arguing with somebody about why they should or shouldn't be voting. You know, encourage them, but, but, but be mindful that you may have a lot of homes you want to visit, and how you're going to use that time. Definitely help voters with information about postal and proxy voting, quite often they will ask you that sort of information, and one thing I often have is that printed up on a clipboard and I can show it to people and they can read it through at their own leisure, as well. Make sure that anyone supporting you with your campaign are following the, is following the code of conduct here for Great Britain, and, again, you'll find that on the Electoral Commission. Finally, once you are a candidate, you will receive a free copy of the electoral register. Use the information, and, because it's tightly controlled, so check those rules. It's really worth doing some reading beforehand, you know, how you fill things in, what you can and cannot do, because what you don't want to do is end up in the situation, and it's in the should nots, but where you might make a false statement about a person, about the personal character of another candidate. You definitely shouldn't be paying canvassers. You certainly, and this happened here in Epsom and Ewell last year, was somebody made a promise about how they would be using their allowances if they got elected, and that was put to the Electoral Commission, who had to investigate it, and another one I've seen is canvas at the polling station. Canvassing stops the day before, I'd definitely be down at the polling station on the day of the election. Be visible, wear your rosette, and just check what you can have on your rosette, but don't be canvassing, don't be encouraging people to vote for you as they're going into the polling station, and of course there's all the guidance for you at the electoral commission.
Next slide, please. So, I've mentioned this before, it's really important to be ready and get all the information you need and there is so much information out there. You know, we really want people to stand as independent councillors, and to get elected. So, use the tools. The local government association, and in fact the independent group are invaluable. They have a wealth of information and knowledge, and they will often point you in the right direction. Look at the independent network, as well, have a look at books such as Flatpack Democracy and Elections on a Shoestring. The latter is just an, a brilliant book, and it's really, really worth taking a read of. Look at LGA, LGI inform, or LG inform, local papers, Twitter, and Facebook, as well as have key contacts in your phone, and the other thing I would really be encouraging you to do is go and speak to current councillors, people who are already there doing the job, to give you, sort of, information and insight into how the council is run, is it a cabinet system or is it a committee system? What do they see are going to be the major issues that are going to be coming forward in the next two, three, four years? So, really getting that insight, because also I believe that that will really help you in terms of your manifesto, and what will go into that. Thank you, and back to Marianne.
Cllr Marianne Overton: Thank you very much indeed, Helen, that was brilliant, and you've started us well onto the next session, which is very much about campaign tips, so, thank you very much. Moving onto the next section, I think we'll go a little, fairly fast, but it's about identifying and creating your unique selling point, and I hesitate to use the word 'selling', but I'm afraid, you know, in a way, it's marketing, it's about making sure people know who you are and what you're about. I do, time and again, come across brilliant, brilliant independent councillors whose nose is well down to the grindstone, they do a fantastic job, but they don't tell anyone. They're too modest, and the complication with that is they can be voted out for no good reason, and that's a real shame. So, it's actually really important to think about how you're seen. So, yes, do a good job, but don't neglect the fact that you have to think about who knows about it. Moving on, then, through the different, how do you decide what kind of a councillor you're going to be, and what kind of an image you're going to present? So, I think the first point is to think just three, just, adjectives. Local, independent, effective are mine, you may have different ones, but just think of three adjectives that you think, if somebody wanted to say, 'What's that person like?' To their friend over the garden gate, whatever, and they would just say, 'Oh, well, actually they're, they're local, they're independent, they're effective,' you might have hard working, you might have a number of other adjectives that you want to come to the mind. So, think about what you feel matches how you want to be, and how you are, that fits with your natural character. So, next slide, thank you. So, next part is to make sure that those three descriptive words play through all of your material.
So, every time you're doing a newsletter, a, an, a, any kind of document, a press release, anything, do those three descriptions come to mind, and in that way it creates a credible kind of character that people can recognise. So, when we need to recruit, we need to do a lot of recruiting, I'm afraid, and we need lots, lots of people to come forward, and we need good people to actually stand and to be elected. Local government is just too important to be left to the big parties. Local government is about local, and that means people like you and me who are well-connected to our communities and determined to do our best for them. So, look for people who have done something in their community, or are doing something that's for others, that means that they are thinking in a-, in a way that is helpful for a councillor. There was one councillor I asked because she organised a ball, she asked me to go, and I went along, and I couldn't believe it, there were 150 people there all having a three-course dinner, dressed up in their, up to the nines, and we had a terrific night and raised a huge amount of money, and it made me think, 'She's organised, connected with the community, and she's thinking about other people,' and that, for me, makes a good councillor, and I was right, she's brilliant. So, it's, this, it's just looking around, who's around you, and, and asking them. So, we want people who are team players as well, because we don't, it, it can be very complicated if somebody is only thinking for themselves, or only thinking about themselves, and thinking alone, because actually if you want to represent the community you've got to be listening to other views, and it's really important for independent councillors to work together so that we're not isolated. We're independent, but not alone. Thank you, next slide.
So, you also need to recruit helpers, and you have a core team, people who will go to the ends of the earth for you, so, you might not have very many of those, but that you also want to ask more people, and when I stood for MP I had-, I had, counted up at the end, when I was writing the thank you letters, and there were 112, and I thought, 'Yeah, that's, it does take that many people to get 60,000 leaflets out three times.' So, you do need lots of people. You want to, some people might pledge just money or time, if they don’t want to get actually out on, out and about, and I think that's important, is to think about the different, different kinds of jobs. So, some people might go, I think the hardest is probably canvassing, because somebody who will door knock and say, 'I'm here on behalf of, your name, because she's really good, she works hard, and she does a great job for us in the community, would you like to have a look at her literature? Would you support her,' or him, so, this, it's that kind of approach, and that, that, that, it's a different kind of character to a person who just wants to put £10 to help you on your way. So, looking at all of the different kinds of jobs that you've got available, and picking people to help you on them. Next slide, thinking about what's an independent councillor, and I believe that we're very much about listening, being responsive. We are a bit brave, we do stick our heads above the parapets, rather, and that's partly about being diverse in our thinking as well as diverse characters, different kinds of people come forward. We have diversity amongst the group, but certainly it's also about diverse thinking, as well. We tend to be listening, so, we're receptive, which means that you might change your actions, or change the way you do something, and we're in touch with residents, and that's a real key, and that's why we get elected, I believe.
There'll be other things that you will think of as well. Next slide. This is actually quite important, how you want to be seen, because when you're about to blow off steam and blow your top off at someone and be really mad at them, how will people see that? Will they see someone who's lost control, and if you lose control of yourself, what else will you lose control of? So, it's about being you, but being the best of you, and how, and thinking about the way that you're being, you're presenting yourself. So, when somebody asks you a question, do you shout back straight away with something cutting, which is maybe not very thoughtful, not very receptive? Do you want to be seen as effective? So, when somebody raises something, deal, maybe deal with it and get back to them, you know, and if you can't deal with it, get back to them, tell them so. So, lots about being useful to the community. So, these, by thinking this through, it changes the way you behave on the doorsteps, and it changes what you write in your literature. So, that's why it's quite a useful exercise. Moving on, understanding the battleground, and this is looking at what people may say about you, what you might say about them, and these are the four categories, which you can read. The point about this is that, to think ahead, so, if somebody is going to, if you know there's a weakness, or something that might be perceived as a weakness by somebody, how would you counter it? So, instead of getting into that argument, put the counter-argument right at the front. Put that out in the outset, in your literature. So, 'I may not be in your, living in your street, but I am very responsive, or I am within five minutes of where you live,' something. So, think about, go through and write all the advantages and disadvantages, if you like, is one way of looking at it, of yourself, and see where the counter is, and then make sure that you put the good things about you, and also in, in, put up front the counter arguments.
Okay, looking at the-, going on, next slide, thinking about the doorstep introduction, and this is also about if anybody sees you at the school gate, or in passing, anywhere you might see you, and they say, 'Oh, are you standing,' and, and then you, you might be able to say very, very concisely what you're about, and it's very important. So, the plan is to get what you, who you are and why you want them to vote for you in 27 words, which takes nine seconds. So, you want your three points. So, if you've got the same three points at the beginning, you know, 'Please vote, good morning, I am, I'd like you to vote for me,' and put the date, 'On May the 6th, because,' and then you might say, 'I'm local, I'm independent, I'm effective. I've done a lot of work in this area, X, Y, Z.' So, just, if you get time for the second part, but at least you got your 27 words across, and I think that you'll find that's very helpful.
The last part, now, if we move on, then, is to look at the question and answer, and I'm going to, firstly, just take a few words from each on the panel.
Cllr Marianne Overton: Right, okay. Neil, Neil Prior? I've had a text from him, he's here. Neil Prior, from Pembrokeshire, Neil?
Cllr Neil Prior: Hello, yes, I'm here.
Cllr Marianne Overton: Thank you.
Cllr Neil Prior: Yes, so I was listening, and made a couple of notes there, actually, for my next election campaign, thank you very much for that. So, to introduce myself, my name's Neil Prior, I'm an independent councillor in Pembrokeshire, in West Wales. I got elected in 2017, so I'm three and a half years in and I became a councillor because I had previously worked with local government, in the private sector, and I developed a real interest around local government, how it operated, how important it was to the communities that it was there to, to serve, and I won't give you the, the long and boring story, but I had a bit of a life change. I ended up moving back home to my my adopted home of Pembrokeshire, and I'd, I, I, kind of, bumped into somebody at a, an event. So, I, I was bored one evening and I went to a local consultation on the future of leisure services in Pembrokeshire. Somebody from the audience asked a question about the wellbeing of future generations act, which I'd been reading up, because I was-, I was still working with the sector, with local government, but in the-, in the private sector. We got chatting, and she said to me that she was thinking about standing for election. So, I offered to help her, because I've done some coaching in the past. So, we, we started meeting, and talking, and it, kind of, got to about three months out from the election, and I thought, 'I need to be doing this, as well.' So, I then heard that the local councillor who'd been, who'd been in post for some time had decided to step down. I phoned him, I had a chat with him, and then I decided to stand, and then, yeah, I had kind of, eight weeks of really hard work, of canvassing and door knocking and really felt that, you know, I was on a mission, and got elected.
So, three and a half years in it's simultaneously the most fascinating thing I've ever done, but also the most frustrating, and that is from a point of view of the, the whole diversity of what you get involved with as a councillor, from helping individuals, and in my case, I've got a cabinet position in Pembrokeshire, so have some additional responsibility. And I've, I've-, that responsibility for me, politically, is to drive forward the council's change programme and you've probably heard of councils that can be a little bit behind the times and, so, I was-, I was like a kid in a sweet shop, basically. I saw so many opportunities for change and improvement and we've made lots of those changes and improvements, but that's where some of the frustration has come in as well. So, I thoroughly enjoy what I do. It's hard work, but I hope that's a, a brief introduction to me and I look forward to taking on some of the questions later. Thank you.
Cllr Marianne Overton: Brilliant, thank you, and then we heard earlier from Gillian Ford from Havering, perhaps she'd just come back and give a few, few words about herself, Gillian?
Cllr Gillian Ford: Thank you, yes. So, more recently, there are different independent groups within Havering and I'm now chairing an alignment of all of those different groups. So, we have nineteen councillors, but it's four different associations and that can help sometimes if you align with others because you, you have the more chance of getting committee positions because, as individuals, you won't necessarily get a, a seat on a committee if you're in a cabinet-style system. So, that can be a challenge for you and it may be talking to some like-minded people so that you can grow that further. So, I've been busy doing that. I'm also deputy chair on the LGA's city and regions board, which is, is fascinating and interesting and I've also been representing local authorities in Brussels on the EU committee of the regions which stopped in January, but conversations have continued in the UK and Marianne and myself have been on the task group looking at the implications of exit in January and we'll all wait with bated breath to see what happens next.
Cllr Marianne Overton: Thank you, that's absolutely-, and so, Councillor Hannah Dalton, would you like to come back and say a bit more about yourself? Thank you.
Cllr Hannah Dalton: Thanks, Marianne. Yeah, so, I mentioned before, I was elected in May 2015 and I probably spent the first couple of years on the back bench, which will-, which will surprise those who know me because I tend to always be doing something, but since then, I'm now vice chair on our community and wellbeing committee. I'm also vice chair of standards. I'm the deputy chair of the Local Government Association safer and stronger communities board which has got a fascinating remit. I absolutely love it. So, the domestic abuse bill, the regulations coming out as a result of Grenfell, lots and lots to do with COVID. There's, there's, there's a lot going on and it's really busy and challenging and I just love it. I think I'm very much one of those people that believes you should be the change you want to see. I think it's very easy to be a keyboard warrior and to point out what isn't right. It is actually a lot, lot harder to stand and make your voice heard and to take responsibility and I think, and I don't want to make this gender-based, but quite often, as a woman, it's quite hard as well. I think the stats are that, you know, a woman has to be asked so much-, Marianne will probably correct me, something like ten times before they will stand and I certainly was one of those people. I was on a train home with somebody from my resident's association and she said, 'You'd be great,' because she knew what I was doing with the step three (ph 48.47) stuff and, yeah, she kept asking. She kept asking. She kept asking and I'm really, really pleased I did it. It's just one of the most rewarding things that you can do and, and, I suppose, the, the one bit I just love really is when you do good things, when you do things that are the right thing to do. With that always is the challenge of having to make some very difficult decisions. You know, Gillian's talked about the situations she's had to deal with, but ultimately it is a very, very rewarding role and I'm really, really just so honoured to do this that I'm-, that I just have a huge passion for it, so thank you.
Cllr Marianne Overton: That's brilliant, thank, thank you very much indeed. We've just checked and Randolph is still in his full council meeting, so he's going to come straight after that, but they're obviously keeping him talking, all is-, so, we're going to go next to a few questions and answers, if that's okay. So, we've got, so far, there's got seven or eight questions up, so we-, that's good. So, we'll run through. So, firstly, a simple one I guess is, how do you deal with conflict? You know, where you-, where you knock on the door and there's somebody rude, how do you deal with rude people? So, let's see, I'm going to start-, can I start with you, Hannah, since you're there?
Cllr Hannah Dalton: Not be rude back.
Cllr Marianne Overton: That's great.
Cllr Hannah Dalton: You know, I will say-, I'm going to be honest with you, what-, last time I, I was on a road and it was awful was a Saturday morning and everybody was just-, it was a bad morning clearly for everybody and, by the last house, I was a bit shirty and I really regretted it and I went back and apologised, but I think it's always-, you know, people don't want their door knocked on always. I think it's just a smile and say, 'Thank you for your time,' and not to get engaged in it. You then leave a positive impression even though perhaps their behaviour was not as good as it could have been. I don't know about the others, though.
Cllr Marianne Overton: Thank you. That's great. Neil? This is right up your street, isn't it?
Cllr Neil Prior: Well, not, not being rude to people? I hope so, yeah.
Cllr Marianne Overton: Great.
Cllr Neil Prior: I-, do you know what? I didn't-, 'cause I've only gone through one election, I didn't have that many rude people, but just as Hannah says, you know, you-, just, all you can do is be polite and leave a good impression and you-, and what you don't know is what that person is going through when you interrupt their day. It's basically an interruption, isn't it? You know, you're knocking someone's door and they-, I mean, what I used to do, and I've, I've got this here with me, my little leaflet in case I needed to refer to it, but I, I, kind of, I, I try to make a bit of an event of it. So, I would knock on the door and then I'd say, 'Great news, there's gonna be an election and I am standing,' and that actually-, that, that worked for me as my, kind of, ice breaker, so I didn't have many rude people, sorry. I've had a few since and I think, then, I, I think you just have to be firm and assertive and stand your ground, but politely and in the way that, you know, is, is true to yourself, so, yeah.
Cllr Marianne Overton: Yeah, that's good, thank you. That's 27 words too, I think. Gillian?
Cllr Gillian Ford: For me, I never say, 'Are you going to vote for me? Are you going to vote for us?' I normally say, 'Hello, I am from the resident's association and we hope we can count on your support at the next election,' and then it's entirely over to the person if they want to continue the conversation. I'm not promoting them having to speak to me, I've just told them what I'm there for. On one occasion, I heard, 'There's no way I'm voting for the resident's association, I, I'm voting for the Brexit Party,' and I said, 'I'm sorry to hear that, have a good day,' and I left it at that because it was quite clear that, that the manner it was said in, he didn't want to discuss it any further and I just moved on.
Cllr Marianne Overton: Thank you. I think it's heartening that there are so few, I have to say. It is very-, it is rare, very rare, that-, I might get one out of-, I've got 5,000 doors. You know, it's, it's very rare and, as Neil was saying, you don't know what else is in their lives and there are-, you know, sometimes knowing the individuals, they are-, they are a bit that way and, you know, that-, nothing to be done about it. It's not you or anything. So, yeah, I think that's about, about-, certainly. I think the, the other thing I think of is, sometimes people say they're not interested in the election and I find that really saddening because-, especially annoying when it's a woman, says that-, and I'm thinking about all, all of the lengths that people went to to make sure that we do have a vote, if you think of all the wars that went through. You know, it makes we do have a democracy and also obviously all that went through with suffragettes and so on. So, to then (talking over each other 53.41) worried me.
Cllr Hannah Dalton: Well, I was gonna say, behind me is where Emily Davison died.
Cllr Marianne Overton: Hannah, would you like to come in there?
Cllr Hannah Dalton: Marianne, I was gonna say, behind me is where Emily Davison died, where she ran in front of the king's horse. This is-, this is the Epsom Racecourse behind me. So, you know, very much here, we, we know that one. Sorry to interrupt, but yeah. I don't-, I'm not pointing at the spot, just literally at the racecourse.
Cllr Marianne Overton: It's alright. Yeah, no, absolutely, that's right, thank you.
Cllr Gillian Ford: Can, can I-, can I-, can, can I come in as well, Marianne?
Cllr Marianne Overton: Yes, Gillian.
Cllr Gillian Ford: I, I think, when it becomes election time, I put up on Facebook or social media, 'No matter who you vote for, make sure you vote, your, your vote is going to count,' and absolutely I have had a lady who says-, who said to me, on one occasion, 'I vote who my husband votes for,' and she said, 'But my husband's died,' and I said, 'Well, there you go. I-, now you, you can vote for you want to vote for.' She said, 'Do you know what? My son told me that.' She said, 'I'm going to. I'm going to vote for who I am,' and sometimes it's that comfort zone and when that goes from somebody, they've always been depending on their partner to say who they're going to vote for, but, but there is-, there is evidence now that people vote-, change who they vote for over time. Whereas people used to vote for certain mainstream parties and it was a family tradition to do so, that has gone. The younger generation vote for who they see are fighting those key issues that bother them.
Cllr Marianne Overton: Yeah, that's great, okay. Thank you very much. Okay, next one is about the work-life balance and there are two questions on this, so I'm gonna take them together, if that's okay. Thinking about what you do, and, as we all know, that being a councillor, well, like any job I suppose, it's as long as a piece of string and if you really get keen, you could spend all your time doing it like I do, but, you know, thinking about it, how do you manage the work-life balance? Perhaps I'll start with Neil this time, can we?
Cllr Neil Prior: Yes, thank you. It's a really good question and I'm-, I have-, I'm not sure I've cracked it yet, is the honest answer to that. In addition to my councillor roles and, and the cabinet position as well, which takes up-, it's-, you know, it's a good couple of days a week, I also do some other work as well. So, I feel I've actually-, I've built-, actually, the great thing about being a councillor is I've been able to build a portfolio of work around-, I, I, kind of-, yes, so, right, there's a trade-off here. So, having worked in the private sector where you give your all and I, I worked really long, hard hours. I was always just a number and I remember that. When it came to that time where I was gonna leave, I remember thinking, as I went through the revolving doors of this large HQ up in Slough that I was just a number. So, being a councillor has enabled me to create a lifestyle where I'm my own boss. Well, I-, actually, I report to the leader, but yeah I'm my own boss in that respect. I've been able to do some other work with the LGA. I've, I've got a couple of non-executive director positions and I also started my own business just doing some ad hoc consultancy last year. So, I'm really busy, but that is a choice that I have made and I, I do work long, long hours. You know, my partner says to me, 'Why, why do you wanna do that when you've got someone phoning you at nine o'clock at night?' But it's, it's that trade-off, actually, between the fulfilment that you get from helping people. It's about me and how ambitious and hard-working I am, but I haven't quite cracked it yet, is the answer, but I do try to make sure that I have at least one day a week off and then it might only be if there's something urgent that comes in that I have to deal with, but you, you, you also start to get a feel for the people in your ward and the kind of issues that come up and what really matters to people.
So, again, it's about exercising your judgement and you've gotta look after-, and especially this year when there's been even greater demands on councillors with, with COVID and helping communities. You've-, you have to look after yourself first. So, yeah, I hope that helps.
Cllr Marianne Overton: It's really helpful. Without repeating, I'm sure, Gillian?
Cllr Gillian Ford: Thank you, yes. Being a councillor is not a nine to five job. It can be any time. I've had New Year's morning at eight o'clock in the morning, a couple contacted me, they'd been flooded in their property and you help them out. It can be eleven o'clock at night, something has happened and the resident desperately needs your help, but it's-, you, you work your way, way around it. You find your own way of managing it and, dependent on what committees and interests you're on, if you're interested in that committee, you will find a way how you can fit that in with everything else you do. So, for example, I'm a Rotarian. I run a dementia choir. I do planting in the street, a number of other voluntary things that I do and engage with, but I work that in and around what I do as a councillor and that was even the case when I had the children at home. Two of them are off married now, so they're totally out of the equation in that sense, but you, you do find your own way of fitting and suiting it and it will be dependent if you are working as to what your employer, his attitude is and how you-, how you gauge that with, with the committee work.
Cllr Marianne Overton: Thank you, that's helpful. Hannah?
Cllr Hannah Dalton: Yeah, so, I-, whilst being a councillor, I have been in full-time employment and now I've moved also where, where Neil is. I like to call it portfolio, it means just juggling lots and lots of things, but I think if, if you're going for this and you're working, do know your rights about getting paid time off and do sit down before you stand for an election and have a really honest conversation with your-, with your boss or your organisation or, or, or the HR department about this. You know, it might be that you don't return, but if you do, you, you know, being able to say up front, 'I'm going to need some time, I'm going to need flexibility,' as opposed to contacting them on the lunchtime of Friday 7th May and saying, 'There's been a bit of a change,' they won't appreciate it. I always joke, I don't know, there was a very famous interview with Princess Diana and I always joke-, well, I don't think my husband finds it so funny, but I always joke that being a councillor is a Camilla in our marriage because it takes a lot longer-, that sounds wrong now, but it takes up a lot of time and it is a third thing there, but I've learnt, in recent months, to just take some tips. So, like Neil takes a day, I try, on a weekend, to not do anything. I try to plan it so, on a weekend, other than something being urgent, so, for example, one Saturday just before the election last year there was a fire. Five families were no longer in their homes. I organised a collection of things from the community to help them, clothes and toys for the children, etc. You know, when that happens, my, my husband gets it and, and that's what I'm focusing on, but I really try not to do things over the weekends. I am also, over Christmas, I'm going to put an out of office on. I'm not doing to say, 'I'm away, I'm not listening.' I'm just going to say, 'You may not hear from me immediately.' I think people will respect that.
So, I think there's something about putting in some boundaries around when you're doing emails, when you're reading papers, when you're-, when you're in meetings with officers and (audio cuts out 01.01.40) and then really, and it's not always easy, and then really trying to stick to them because otherwise it can just leech into everything and then you get no clear delineation and I am not-, I don't-, I know, for me, now, that's not really great for my mental wellbeing when I do that. So, boundaries is important.
Cllr Marianne Overton: Thank you very much. I think that it's important to, to recognise that, if you don't look after yourself, you won't be able to help others. So, it's actually, I think, Neil's point that he made there was very well made. Certainly, I-, we, we do take Sundays off, we try to go for long walks on Sunday. So, last, last Sunday it was three long walks, so we spent all day out walking and I think that's quite important when we're sitting inside so much on Zoom. So, certainly making time every day for your family is important and also a long time at weekends as well to make up. Gillian, and then we need to wrap up.
Cllr Gillian Ford: Yeah, I just-, yeah, I, I just want to add that you do need to have a conversation with family because family are going to be there to pick up the pieces when you can't cook the dinner because of this emergency or the childcare because you're doing something else. So, you really do need to have a, a conversation with family if you undertake the role as a councillor.
Cllr Marianne Overton: Okay, that's good. Then we've got a few that are about logistics in a council and we've got a few questions that are about campaigning and a question-, so, if I can start, I think, with the, the campaigning ones. So, could we have a look at a quick-, a quick-fire of your top campaigning tip and if we run round, top campaigning tip starting with you, Gillian, since you're there.
Cllr Gillian Ford: Okay, so, we, we had little calling cards which had the three candidates' names on, telephone numbers and what we were standing for in principle on a postcard size. They could take that to the polling booth with them if they could-, couldn't remember our names and they could keep it with the telephone with our contact details.
Cllr Marianne Overton: Yeah, that's a good one. Neil?
Cllr Neil Prior: Connect with people. So, I've found that really beneficial, to try and make those personal connections and take time to talk to people where you can. Design a good leaflet, so I, I think I did and I put very clearly on there what I stood for and finally enjoy it. So, you're, you're gonna do it every four or five years, so enjoy it and then you're gonna get more out of it.
Cllr Marianne Overton: That's great, thank you. Hannah?
Cllr Hannah Dalton: I think make sure, if you've got people campaigning with you, that they know what's in your manifesto and that they, they are representing your brand well. Definitely don't go campaigning out on your own, make sure you're doing a street or something with you and people know where you are and the last one-, the last one, I've forgotten what it was, but yeah. I know what it was, was look at where-, that, that you can save yourself time and knock off quite a few number of houses, where do the other candidates live and who are the people that sign their papers? It is not even worth walking up the footpath to those homes. Know where they are and know the homes around them because then, actually-, you know, so, for example, last year we decided that we wouldn't go and knock at any of those doors because we know they're supporting the other candidates and it's sort of an, an effective use of time.
Cllr Marianne Overton: That's great and I think that answers another of the questions which is, would you knock on a Labour-, a door that says clearly, 'I vote Labour,' or, 'I vote Conservative,' on it? So, I guess you're saying not.
Cllr Hannah Dalton: That's back to the question of, how do you deal with somebody who's rude to you when you knock on the door? You know, do you wanna put your head in the lion's-, look, there is a guy round here that always signs the Labour papers and we know he always votes for us. We, we don't know why. So, sometimes if we have time we go and have a chat with him on the doorstep and, and, and sometimes we don't. So, you know, it's back to what Neil says, it's about, you know, knowing, knowing the people out there.
Cllr Marianne Overton: Yeah, thank you and I think my tip would be similar. It's on the electoral register. I'm not sure that everybody realised what a gold mine that is. It's really important and I, I keep notes as well. You know, so, if I have actually helped someone or someone I, you know, remember who it is. Put it-, make a note on your electoral register and I think that, again, is important because, if you do go around, as you say, if you're short of time, you know, make sure you go to the ones where you are likely to change their vote in your favour, where you might tip it. So, don't forget anybody, don't take anyone for granted, but-, and don't, don't bother with the ones that are really not gonna go for you, but it's the ones that you might change and those are the ones to really focus the most time on. It's just thinking strategically. I-, we don't leave anyone out, though. I do knock or, or a, a leaflet at least, if not knock, every single door. So, nobody is neglected and that's very important as well and nobody's taken for granted. Okay, the other thing is I do, and I think is worth doing, is collecting email addresses. I know a lot of people are using social media now and that's right and we do, but I still think a news-, a newsletter, which I send out every single month, that comes on their inbox, it's to them personally. It's their newsletter. I think that's effective. I do find, when I'm going round to any events or anything, people know me really well and those are the people who've been getting my newsletter and they do know me really well, it's true. So, I, you know, it's very helpful. Hannah?
Cllr Hannah Dalton: Sorry, just one thing is, I, I know it's an extra cost, but definitely doing a calling card is really good. If you're spending your time going out there, just a postcard with, you know, 'Sorry you weren't in, but we called.' That's really good because, you know, again, when I stood the second time round, none of the national parties, although they stood candidates, not one of them did a manifesto. Not one of them canvassed, so it was really great, but again, you know, it shows that you did the effort of going to their door. So, you know, it's a little bit more money but it's definitely worth the extra effort.
Cllr Marianne Overton: Yeah, that's great, thank you. Moving on to the leaflet, I'm gonna start with Neil this time because he's done a good leaflet, he said. It says, 'What tips have you got for designing a leaflet, and what information is key?' Neil?
Cllr Neil Prior: Okay. Yeah, no, it's a good-, it's a good question. So, this was the first time I did it. I, I just thought-, actually, I, I was-, I was quite lucky because one of my competitors, he put his leaflet through my letterbox and it was awful, so I knew that the bar was quite low, but then I just-, I wanted to make it really clear. So, yeah, I dug this out, actually, in advance of this Zoom. So, I had a picture of my cheesy, cheesy grin there. My ward and, you know, the, the areas it covered, a bit about me, and then the bit that I'm really proud of, actually, here was I, I sort of campaigned on three areas. You probably can't see this, so I'll just talk you through it. It was around representing the local community. So, it's the hyper-local stuff. It was about fighting for the county. So, things that I felt were important to people across the county, and I also stood on a ticket of local government reform, actually. So, I encouraged new ways of working and Pembrokeshire's place in Wales. So, I, I felt that I had a very strong message that I'd put across. I also did all of the social media stuff. So, you can connect me on all these different platforms, and then of course, the big 'Vote Prior' as well on, on the date, and because I was in Wales, it was bilingual. So, somebody-, I don't speak Welsh, but they volunteered to translate it for me. So, so yeah, that's what I put on-, put on my leaflet and I got elected by quite a significant margin, so it must have had something to do with it.
Cllr Marianne Overton: That's great, thank you very much. If we could go to Gillian next?
Cllr Gillian Ford: Thank you. The only additional thing that we had on ours, because we've had an association for a long time, we put things that we had actually done and made a difference with in the community. So, that can be something that you've done in your personal life where you've engaged with charities or whatever. Put that on there because people need to know who you are, and there's nothing better to show who you are than what you've actually done. So, put, put some-, put some detail and meat to the bone of what you've actually achieved.
Cllr Marianne Overton: That's great, thank you. That's very helpful, and of course, the other thing is that you mustn't forget to put the imprint at the bottom, 'promoted by' and 'printed by', and that's a legal requirement. So, it is a must, but you can be really small. That's the funny thing about it, so that it's got to be legible, but it can be almost with a magnifying glass, but so long as it's there. I think the-, the other thing I think is a nice picture, and it's worth putting a bit of thought into that. If you can get a picture yourself, good, you need that, but also, if you've got any pictures of you doing things, I always think I like to get those in, and I must admit, I don't normally do it bilingual so it does mean we've got two side of A4 to fill, which is helpful. So that sounds good, but also really clear and simple. Don't get complicated. They, they do say that for newspaper and so on, they have a reading age of eleven. It's not because they're insulting. It's just that people don't want to be bothered with anything that looks complicated. It's just the-, it's not they can't. It's just they don't want to, so keep it simple and really easy so it's right in your face, and if you-, if you've only got 90 seconds, I think they say, between picking it up off the doormat and deciding whether it goes in the bin or on the table. So, so you need it to be very in your face. Good.
Cllr Gillian Ford: Can I-, can I just come in on that as well? What we, we have three different leaflets stroke letters. So, a letter goes out, excuse me, to the eighteen year olds that haven't voted before. So, that's done in a letter format of welcoming into the age of voting and putting your manifesto, a little bit about you within that, or including one of the leaflets, and then there's another smaller leaflet. So, we have the comprehensive leaflet and then we have a smaller leaflet just to remind people of what's going on.
Cllr Marianne Overton: Yeah, that's great. Excellent. Hannah?
Cllr Hannah Dalton: Yeah. So, actually, whilst you've been speaking, I have a big folder, but the one thing that we do is-, oh, gosh-,
Cllr Marianne Overton: Move it the same distance as your face.
Cllr Hannah Dalton: Oh, wow, don't want to do-, well, a thing we have on the back is, is our imprint with, just with what our name-, basically, we mock up what the three ward councillors-, we mock up what it will look like on the ballot paper with a cross next to our names. So, really good. One thing we haven't spoken about in any of this so far, and I think it's really critical when you're talking campaigning, is about your postal voters. A postal vote was definitely-, well, they're very, very, very likely to vote. So, you know, we pay a lot of attention to postal voters. So, we find out from our democratic services when they are expecting the letters to go out, and we write a postal voter letter that we send. I think we actually go and put it through their doors to coincide with them receiving their papers. It is really important. You know, Marianne spoke earlier about the data you can get from the electoral register. It's definitely worth obtaining it for the ward or division you want to stand for, but, but focus on your postal voters. Focus on, you know, getting information to them, getting a personalised letter and making you sure-, you know when they are going to receive their papers to vote so that you are front and centre in their mind, because certainly here in Surrey, one of the divisions here in Epsom and Ewell is won on postal voters alone, so we know the importance of them. I don't know if anyone else has got comments on postal voters, 'cause we haven't really spoken about them.
Cllr Marianne Overton: That's very helpful, thank you. Good point. And I-, that goes with getting the electoral register, because only part of it is public. So, to get the electoral register if you're not a councillor, or for an area where you're not a councillor, you need a party, and that's one of the things, one of the reasons why we have the Independent Network, so that we have a nominating person-, nominating officer in each person and they can get the register. So, that, that's just to make sure that you can do that, and that's the Independent Network will do that. Moving on, then, to the next question is about on, working on the council, who decides which committee-, who goes on which committees? So, it's perhaps more of a technical thing, but there is a bit of a stuff about it, behind it. So, since you're there already, Hannah, would you like to have a go at that?
Cllr Hannah Dalton: So, every year, we do preferences. So, every year, people nominate themselves for which committees they want to sit on, either as a chair, a vice-chair or a back-bencher. If you're vice-chair or a chair, you're there for five years. We hope that people will do it because they're genuinely interested in the topic, and that it's somewhere where they're going to be interested in reading the papers. We don't-, we don't push people to sit on committees they don't want to. Saying that, here in Epsom and Ewell, out of 38 councillors, 32 of us are RA, so we expect, for example on planning, we want to have a, as broad a representation of all of our wards as we can, but it's really down for-, in my council, it's down to member preference and interest.
Cllr Marianne Overton: That's great, thank you. Gillian?
Cllr Gillian Ford: Thank you. Yes, it is down to preference and interest, but sometimes you haven't experienced that other committee and it might be, 'Well, we haven't got anybody to go on there. Would you be interested in going on it?' and it's amazing how quickly somebody says, 'I really like that committee,' and they've learnt something new. So don't discount going onto a committee because you haven't done it before. You can learn so much by doing something different, and I'm sure that you'll have something to bring to the table, but going back to what I said when I was presenting, you-, if you are one person, sometimes it's very difficult to have any seats on any committees. It doesn't preclude you from actually going along to the committees, but you won't have a voice at that table, but if, if you can align with others, then that more chance of you getting onto, onto a committee.
Cllr Marianne Overton: That's great, thank you. And Neil?
Cllr Neil Prior: Yeah, not, not a great deal to add, really, to that, other than just, well, I was gonna say, 'Nothing really to add,' but to Gillian's point about-, so, in Pembrokeshire, we have a-, the Independent Group and we also have Unaffiliated Independents. So there's lots of Independents. I'm an Unaffiliated Independent, which means I am one, one voice, one vote, but actually the chamber is made up of around 24. It's 24 Unaffiliated Independents, so the constitution was rewritten to provide us Unaffiliated with spaces on the committee seats. The, the, the advice I would give people, if you haven't been involved, you know, that can be a whole new amazingly complicated world, actually, going in and reading the constitution and standing orders and committees and different functions, so it's probably doing a little bit of research beforehand and getting an idea of, understanding how the council works and then you might find that you, you have a particular interest in something and that, that might help you speak to the right people to try and make those-, make those good things happen.
Cllr Marianne Overton: That's great, thank you. I think the important point is about working with others. I was saying before, you know, it's no good-, it doesn't help being isolated. It's better if you can work with other people. So, I am in favour of as much collaboration as you can, and if you have a group, you, you can work it out and ultimately it's the leader of that group who puts the name on the paper, puts it forward, but if they're an Independent Group, they will certainly be making sure that they put the best skill-, the best people for the best job and making sure that it's fairly distributed. So, I think that's quite important, you know, who you associate yourself with, and it's good to make sure that you, you do. On the support bit as well, they're asking what support you can get. How do you get support for leafleting and any financial support? So I-, so this, I'm gonna turn to start with Gillian, I think, on this one. So, help with leafleting, 'cause I know I've helped Gillian leaflet.
Cllr Gillian Ford: Marianne came out door knocking with me on one occasion.
Cllr Marianne Overton: Yeah.
Cllr Gillian Ford: It was a very quick scoot along the road. As, as regards leafleting, because we are an association, we have funds in our pockets. So, to get finance isn't the same thing. We, we have a bulletin, a newsletter that goes out monthly and we have a £2 annual subscription, and that's to receive the bulletin stroke be a member of the Residents' Association. So, that money that comes in is what we use for our physical campaigns, but we also use that to make donations to different charities and different groups within the area. So, we're a little bit unique in that sense. We have such a machine of leaflet distribution with residents. We have somebody in every road that is delivering the leaflet on our behalf. So, we, we're a bit different.
Cllr Marianne Overton: No, that's good, but it takes work to get there. Thank you. Hannah?
Cllr Hannah Dalton: Nothing unique, Gillian. We're exactly the same, so nothing to add to Neil's.
Cllr Marianne Overton: What about fundraising? You do a little bit of fundraising, don't you? Don't you? I thought you did. No? No?
Cllr Hannah Dalton: Who, me?
Cllr Marianne Overton: Yeah, do, do, does your group not do fundraising? Oh, right, okay.
Cllr Hannah Dalton: We, we, we're exactly the same as Gillian. We have subs to be part of the RA. We have zone worked (ph 01.20.23), everything, yeah.
Cllr Marianne Overton: Yeah, okay. No, that's fine. Good, thank you. Neil?
Cllr Neil Prior: Yes, so, I, I did most of it on my own, actually, and, but I've, like I say, I've definitely picked up some tips from this evening's webinar, but I did have a little bit of help. The previous councillor came out with me for a day and introduced me to some of their little places that were tucked away. It's a very rural area that I've got. I managed to get my daughter and her friends to deliver some leaflets. Obviously, there was cash involved in that, but you-, I think you have to be smart about how you're gonna target people. So, I did do a paid Facebook campaign. So, I figured out that I could target people in my ward that way. I, I got in touch with the local twice-yearly community magazine and I wrote an article for that. I've got myself in the local paper. So, I, I was-, I went along to community events. So, I tried to speak at various events to get my, my name out that way. So, it was, yeah, but I'm gonna definitely be enlisting some more people next time round.
Cllr Marianne Overton: Yeah, absolutely, thank you. And the other thing is, they all become ambassadors, so every time somebody asks them who they're voting for, they'll be saying you and why. So, yeah, the more helpers you've got, I, in my mind, the better. So, I, I like to do that if possible. We've got a few questions left, and we've got not enough time for them all, so what I'm gonna do is read out a few questions and I'd like you, the panellists, to pick one and, so that the, you don't-, not everybody answers every question. You, you just choose one question to answer. And on the fundraising, our, our group does do fundraising. We have a-, when we were able to meet, we met every month and we had a raffle. We also got a, a quiz coming up with £5 to enter, and so a number of different mechanisms just to get some funds in so that we can support members financially if they are-, you know, if they have any difficulty, just to pay for the leaflets and so on, but I have to say it has got a lot cheaper, leafleting. It's got a lot easier in that score. Okay. So, the questions, then. Top tips for small party candidates against big candidates when, when you've got a big dominant party, how do you cope? On social media, it's probably for you, I guess, Neil, how do you target your residents and how do you deal with unpleasantness, which I think is Gillian. She does-, those residents who are unable to help through the casework, do they maintain a relationship or do they become nasty? You know, what, what happens after that? And best challenges and disadvantages? Best problems and best happy times? The pluses and the minuses? And one I'll just answer quickly is how cross party the committees are. So, those are your questions, folks. Choose one. How cross party are the committees? By law, the proportion of the people on each committee from each political group has to represent, has to be the same as the political proportion on the whole council.
So, if you're in a group, you get your-, your group gets your proportion of seats. If you're not in a group, it's up to the council to decide. They can give you nothing or they can give you plenty. It's up to the council. So, that's, yeah. So, that's why I believe it's a lot easier being in a group. One of the reasons, apart from others. Okay, thank you very much. So, Neil, would you like to start us off with your chosen question?
Cllr Neil Prior: Yes, I will, and it won't be social media. I think it's the, the, the best of times, really, and the worst of times question. So, the bit that I like the least about my role is full council that happens. It's just-, it feels painful, it's dragged out. You get some of the, the more established, the long-standing-,
Cllr Marianne Overton: Okay, we get the picture.
Cllr Neil Prior: Right, yeah, you get the idea. The, the-, so, that's the bit I don't like. The best bit is when someone tells that you've, you've really helped them, and I've had somebody who's said to me that I had, through my help I'd given them hope in their life. I mean, that's a massive statement, but that makes it all worthwhile. Thank you.
Cllr Marianne Overton: Absolutely. Thank you very much. Gillian?
Cllr Gillian Ford: Social media. Have a separate social media Facebook account to your private account, and when people start criticising, just keep giving them the facts. Keep giving them facts, and you will find that they turn round to become your advocate, and I've had on many occasion where somebody has started to be the keyboard warrior, and in the end, the, some-, they've become my friend. They've signed up, registered with me, and when somebody starts doing the same that they did, they said, 'You're barking up the wrong tree. She knows what she's talking about. She's been a great help.' So, stick by the facts.
Cllr Marianne Overton: That's great, thank you very much. Hannah?
Cllr Hannah Dalton: I'm gonna take the one about where you haven't been able to help a resident, and I think on the whole, this is about how you approach it. If most residents will see that you can-, have been as helpful as you can possibly be within the confines of what you can do, they will appreciate it. I think reading them the rulebook will never help because it just looks like you can't really be bothered. There's a way of putting it over, but I have never had anybody that I haven't been able to help who hasn't at the end said, 'Thank you very much for everything you've done. I really, really appreciated it. I kind of knew-,' You know, sometimes it's, 'I kind of knew it might not happen,' but actually, most people will see that you have really worked hard on their behalf and often it wasn't because of you. It was because of, it's just outside of your control or it's something else.
Cllr Marianne Overton: That's great, thank you very much. I think we've covered everybody there, so I'm just going to come towards a, a closing, and bang on time, would you believe? So, that's great. So, thank you very, very much indeed, panellists. You've done brilliantly, and we've answered all the questions. So, very impressive, thank you very much indeed. There, there are lots of helpful places to, where you can find more information and I think the links are hopefully coming on the-, coming up now and on the slides, I think, as well. So, there's some links. The Electoral Commission are useful. The big piece of information I was given is to-, the big advice was to make a note when you've had a conversation with them and keep it so that that's-, and that's very useful. You'll need it-, you might need it later. Your own local council's website. Also, the Independent Network and the county, the site of the other parties. So, if you-, if you're interested in Green or Plaid Cymru as well, and they can be helpful, too. I think, also, the Local Government Association is there to help. The only things-, ah, thank you, you've got the links up there, and that's a really important source, and a huge thank you to Sarah, and I don't know if we're going to see some pictures. If Sarah, if you wouldn't mind showing yourself briefly. Sarah? I don't know if you can come up. I, I'd quite like to see, see some of the officers. I don't think-, I think I've got them geared to them doing that.
Sarah: I'm here. I'm waving, so hello everyone.
Cllr Marianne Overton: Thank you, Sarah. Thanks a lot. And Sarah leads the office, and then she works with Amy, who's here as well. Amy.
Cllr Marianne Overton: Hi there. So, this is, is-, works, runs-, so, together, running the office for you and there to help. So, good to see you, Amy. Thanks a lot. And also, Noeline. Noeline Rosen, are you there today? She may have not put the picture on. Yeah, and Noeline. So, that's three in the office that are there to help from the Independent Group. Oh, hi Noeline. Yeah. That's three from the Independent Group that are there to help, and we also, if you do, you know-, it's, the Local Government Association much bigger than that, with something like 350 staff, but where we work as an Independent Group, we work very hard to find out and think carefully about what the best solutions are for the whole-, for the whole, and we put those forward, and in that way, we're able to persuade or encourage, share views cross party and then the local. Once we've done that, we get buy-in from everybody. That gives us 350 staff working to improve what we need for local government to enable us to do better for our residents. So, it is a brilliant organisation and I'm really pleased that you're engaged and joined on-, joined on today, and for more political things, we've got the Independent Network. I don't know if you can see the picture or not 'cause I can't, but please be welcome to join that, and I'd like to say, I wish you very happy Christmas and a very successful and enjoyable New Year. Thank you very much indeed to everybody. Thank you.
Cllr Hannah Dalton: Thanks Marianne. Bye everyone.
Cllr Marianne Overton: Thanks a lot. Bye.
Cllr Hannah Dalton: Bye.
Cllr Gillian Ford: Bye bye.
The first thing to do is know the rules, which you can find on the Electoral Commission site, here for councillors in England and here for members in Wales. Part 2a is specifically designed for those standing as an Independent.
Find out more about standing as an Independent councillor in our publication, Stand for what you believe, Be an Independent councillor, which is full of useful tips and guidance. We also have free copies of Flatpack Democracy to share.
You may also find it useful to visit the pages of the Independent Network, Residents Association or Party.
If you’d like to stand as a Green Councillor you can find out more in our new Be a Councillor – Green Party booklet.
Cllr Neil Prior from Pembrokeshire shares his experience of a year in the life of a County Councillor.
LGiU have produced a slimline Guide on personal safety for councillors which has a section on canvassing which may be of interest to you.
If you would like to hold a Be a Councillor event in your area, please do get in touch. We can help fund activity that promotes the Be a Councillor campaign and its aims to increase diversity within councils to ensure they are as representative as possible.
Recently, the Chase Independents hosted a virtual Be a Councillor event where viewers heard from a number of Independent Councillors from across the country and were able to submit questions as part of a Q&A. You can watch the full webinar below.
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