Wiltshire Publications

Could you be a local councillor?

Story posted on

Are you passionate about your community? Make a change and become a councillor

By now, everyone has heard the name, Jackie Weaver who made headlines after footage of a parish council meeting she was taking part in went viral. But, did you know there are over 2,000 local (parish and town) council elections taking place this year, including in Westbury and Wiltshire in May?

Are you passionate about your community? Do you want to help make a long-lasting change? Do you have innovative ideas for the council? Do you have concerns about a specific issue and want to do something about it? If this is you, then your community needs you. 

The local elections on 6th May will also decide the make-up of Wiltshire Council for the next four years. Local people can also put themselves forward to stand as a councillor for Wiltshire. Some representatives are members of both their town and Wiltshire councils, but someone can stand for election to one of the councils, or both.

The National Association of Local Councils (NALC) is looking for people from all backgrounds and experiences who reflect their community to put themselves forward for election this May, as part of its #MakeAChange campaign.

Local councils are the first tier of local government and make a massive difference to local people’s quality of life. They run numerous services — many you will see day-to-day, but some are less known. 

White Horse News has asked Westbury Town and Wiltshire councillors for an insight into the work they do. 

Visit www.nalc.gov.uk    /elections to find out more about how you can become a councillor. Or go to Westbury Town Council’s and Wiltshire Council’s websites

Roll your sleeves up and get involved!

Councillor Suzanne Wickham (Conservative) who has represented Ethandune at Wiltshire Council since 2019, said the role is one of the most rewarding jobs anyone could do.  

“On a personal level it broadens your horizons and brings you into contact with so many wonderful residents of Wiltshire,” Suzanne told White Horse News.

“My role as a councillor to five rural/semi-rural parishes is hugely varied. I see my main function as supporting parish councils in their efforts to improve village life and to help residents who often approach me with their problems. 

“It is crucial that I respond very quickly and provide the help needed. There is nothing more rewarding than knowing that you have really made a difference.”

Wiltshire councillors also serve on a variety of committees to support the authority’s work and take part in the decision-making process. 

“Some weeks it is almost a full- time job, attending council and committee meetings, parish council meetings in the evenings, and often responding to residents,” Suzanne said. “However other days I may only spend a few hours reading briefing notes and responding to emails. 

“You need time and significant commitment to carry out this role and to be prepared to ‘roll your sleeves up’ and get involved.

Community involvement is very rewarding

Town mayor, cllr Mike Sutton (Labour) who has been a Westbury councillor for nine years and sits on policy and resources, highways, planning and development and finance committees. 

He told White Horse News, “In simple terms, as a town councillor, one can do as little or as much as one chooses. The more one is involved, the more one can influence decisions and all decisions are made by consensus or majority vote.”

Full town council meetings are every two months. There are also a number of committees and working groups that have councillor representation and on average there are roughly three or four per week, averaging two hours each. 

At present, all meetings are held virtually due to Covid restrictions. 

Mike Sutton also chairs the events, operations and organisation working groups and attends community funding, internal audit, Laverton Institute management and play areas working groups.

He said, “Councillors choose which committees they would like to join and some sit on them all, but the level of involvement is a matter for each individual.

“Being a town councillor gives one an opportunity to help the community and influence some of the decisions made by council, and being involved with our community is a very rewarding experience.”

Members must be able to weather the frustrations that occur when some things the council would like to influence such as planning, development and traffic or highways are the responsibility of the unitary authority [Wiltshire Council].

“We have a consultative role only, although sometimes representations made locally are accepted by Wiltshire Council,” Mike explained. 

“Over the past few years some responsibility has been passed from the unitary authority to the town and examples of what Westbury is responsible include; play areas, public toilets, flower beds, events such as Christmas and many others throughout the year, and the number is increasing.”

The role of town councillor is unpaid and all time and work is given voluntarily. Members are paid no remuneration or expenses.

A great privilege to serve the community

Wiltshire and Westbury town councillor, Gordon King, told White Horse News, “It is a great privilege to serve my community and the residents of the Westbury east ward as both a Wiltshire [unitary] and Westbury town councillor. I am extremely grateful for the support that I have received in past elections.

“Being a councillor is a mixture of exhilaration, inspiration and sometimes disappointment when plans or ideas do not work or are not adopted. 

“I am at my happiest when I am meeting and talking to residents and taking up their issues where my mantra is and always will be ‘if it bothers you, it bothers me.’ 

“As a councillor I am more interested in fixing on solutions and outcomes than endless debate, believing that residents want and expect results.”

At Wiltshire Council Gordon also sits on the health and wellbeing board, overview and scrutiny management, health select (vice chair), pension committees and on the investments sub-committee, Westbury Community Area Board, the health and wellbeing group and CATG. 

He has also joined task groups looking at Streetscene contracts, Better Care Fund spending, child and adolescent mental health provision, housing adaptions, the council’s digital strategy, the trading of schools services and the problems with the help to live at home services (home care) – which he chaired and which contributed to the transformation of social care in Wiltshire. 

He also hears appeals in regards to school transport provision and standards reviews.

At Westbury Town Council Gordon sits on the policy and  resources, highways, planning and development and finance committees. He also contributes to working groups looking at business planning, town improvement, emergency planning, community funding (grant giving), neighbourhood planning, and play areas.

Gordon told White Horse News, “In the community, my major interest is fighting loneliness, isolation and inequality wherever I find it, which was the principle driver which led to me joining with others to found the Crosspoint drop-in centre, train as debt advisor, help people with their benefits, making appeals on their behalf when benefits are stopped. 

“I volunteer for the Link [good neighbour scheme] and have recently applied to join the governing body at Matravers School to help children meet and exceed the challenges of their future.

“I work as a councillor or in my community every day of the week sometimes for several hours of the day and evening, mostly virtually now. Often joining one meeting after another. I work hard for my residents taking the trust and support they have invested in me, seriously.”

Westbury’s youngest councillor

JOINING Westbury Town Council in 2018, cllr Josh Charles (Liberal Democrat), is the council’s  youngest representative. He sits on highways, planning and development, and policy and resources committees.

Josh told White Horse News, “I’ve seen and worked with people of all political (and non-political) shades and each and every one has given a great deal of time and effort for the betterment of the town – a real testament to the spirit of community in Westbury.

“Of course, the last year has knocked us all for six, and has impacted how the town council has worked. 

“From my perspective, being young and in full-time employment, the move to online working has really helped the accessibility of the council and committee meetings. It has meant I can access meetings from my office (when I’ve been able to go in!). I have had more time between work and the council, which has really helped. I hope that meeting online remains an option for any councillor post-Covid-19 as the accessibility improvements cannot be understated.

“During these lockdowns, we have all faced challenges and uncertainty in our lives, but Westbury as a community really pulled together for one another, something that was very clear from the position of a local town councillor.”

Cllr Charles concluded, “Being a town councillor is incredibly rewarding, insightful and gives you a better understanding of all that the town of Westbury has to offer. You may be surprised!”

If anyone is considering putting their name forward to become a councillor but is undecided, Josh Charles says he is more than happy to answer questions and have a chat. He can be contacted by emailing joshua.charles@westburytowncouncil.gov.uk

Connecting with people

COUNCILLOR Carole King (Liberal Democrat), who represents Westbury North at Wiltshire Council, told White Horse News, “The best part of standing for an election is connecting with people. 

“In the past it’s best done on the doorstep, but I fear Covid-19 restrictions will hamper this during the forthcoming election. 

“After you have been elected, which I was for Westbury North in July 2019 (a by-election), your most important job is to represent the people in your ward. 

“They will contact you whenever they have an issue that they want resolved. This means the working hours are 24/7 though, thankfully, no-one rings me too early or late for which I’m grateful! But emails are a different matter and I try hard to respond quickly to them, which means I can be on the computer throughout the day and any day of the week.”

Carole said some issues are hard to resolve because of government legislation constraints. “A good example of this is the way speed is registered, which is a constant complaint of residents,” she explained.

“The 85th percentile of the speed is the point of registration so this often knocks off the slowest and fastest vehicles, so unless the majority of cars are driving above 36 mph (approx.) there will be no further action to take.

“Depending on your circumstances and experience, you can just deal with casework from residents and attend the main Wiltshire Council meeting and Area Board, or you can sit on any number of committees, working groups as well as attending seminars, training, and public meetings. 

“I am now competent in Teams, Zoom and Skype but I miss the face-to-face meetings and going into County Hall to see people in person.”

Carole is currently chair of the Westbury Community Area Board and Community Area Transport Group (CATG). Within the council she is a member of the strategic planning and staffing policy committees. She has attended school transport appeal hearings and been part of an aid and adaptions (housing) working group. 

Carole attends Heywood and Westbury Town Council meetings and usually Westbury Town Council’s subgroup of highways, planning and development.

“The staff at Wiltshire Council are key to your succeeding residents’ issues and I have to say they are all very helpful and, of course, knowledgeable about how processes and systems work,” Carole says. “Scrutiny comes with the political decisions that are made and the blocks put in your way by the administration when you put forward alternative proposals.

“Recently, a resident asked me to resolve a street light issue as he and a neighbour had been phoning, writing, and visiting County Hall to try and resolve it, but with no success. On the Saturday I did a report via the Wiltshire Council app ‘MyWilts’ and on the Monday evening the resident rang to say the problem had been sorted and they now had light in their road. But that was an exception! 

“For me, personally, apart from feeling like I’m still at ‘work’, when I retired a few years ago, I have always been active in my community. So, my networks remain, such as Hope Debt Advice Service, The Westbury Heritage Society, Alzheimers Support, driving for Link and taking part in litter picks. 

“But there are always new ideas and proposals to explore and if they help the residents of Westbury, I am happy to support them.”

 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *