Councillors have a unique role in connecting us to our communities. Strong councillors are at the centre of local networks and help us to grow our relationships with our citizens. That’s why it’s important for us to put councillors at the heart of what we do.
Yet the Democracy Commission’s work has shown us that the valuable role of councillor is often misunderstood, by both our citizens and our staff. We made some specific recommendations about improving things for everyone. Our recommendation for staff was:
“Kirklees Council should promote the role of Councillors to staff members in a structured and ongoing way, as part of wider cultural changes both with the Council and in our communities. Our staff should understand the importance of the Councillor role and how it is an invaluable asset as part of changing and redesigning services.”
We started our practical work to achieve this by holding some workshops for council managers and councillors, asking participants to openly rate how things are now and how we’d like things to be. Participants also discussed how we work together in real situations now, and how we’d like those working relationships to be in the future.
We used the findings of these sessions to plan a final workshop, which brought together 91 councillors and officers. Participants worked in 8 mixed groups to answer a series of questions and to identify some priority actions.
The questions we asked were:
- How could we realistically keep councillors informed about what is happening in their Wards?
- How could we realistically develop stronger working relationships between councillors and staff across the organisation?
- How could we enable councillors to work closer with staff, particularly at a more operational level in their Wards?
- How could we help and support staff to work confidently with councillors?
The workshop discussions generated a wide range of suggestions and observations, all of which we captured in detail and shared with our Democracy Commission Working Group.
The results have helped us to plan some activities over the coming year, to help us sow the seeds of cultural change in our council. We’d like to thank all our staff and councillors who have taken the time to get involved. Your honesty and openness, and your enthusiasm for creating more trust between councillors and officers, has given us a great starting point.