“Do you work for Rosie Duffield now?” was perhaps the oddest question, but there have been a lot of similar inquiries, ranging from the overtly perplexed, to the mildly curious. Since being elected as a Lib Dem Councillor for Blean Forest, last Thursday, I have faced a lot of questions.
The vast majority (ones that weren’t simply “WHAT?!) revolve around what a councillor actually does. I’ll be honest here, even as a political geek for as long as I can remember, local councils have always been slightly mysterious. In some cases, that’s exactly what they want.
After a long battle for the local elections, and then heading straight into the European elections, there will be plenty of politics elsewhere, but I’d like to take this opportunity to shed a bit of light on an often-neglected part of our political system.
Firstly, no I do not work for Rosie Duffield, though I can understand the thought that perhaps there is a straight hierarchy from Westminster down. In our area, at least, you’re likely to elect Parish Councillors, City Councillors, County Councillors, a Member of Parliament and, it appears still, an MEP or two. You can also vote for a Police and Crime Commissioner, but let’s leave that one for a bit.
All of these people have a different role, and often the various levels of government overlap, making it quite difficult to work out who you complain to about your bins not being collected, or who it is who needs to fix the pot holes in your road. For reference, city council for bins, county council for pot holes. Although of course some roads are the responsibility of Highways England.
Seems complicated, doesn’t it? Well it is, but there is some reason to which level of government controls what. It makes sense for the county council to look after roads, because they tend to cross local council boundaries, otherwise even fairly short journeys could become quite difficult. You might find the road stopping abruptly outside Waltham because Ashford didn’t want to carry it on.
But what is Canterbury City Council? It’s a non-metropolitan district council comprising 26 parishes, including two towns and one city. Although the city of Canterbury is just one part of it, the whole district from Seasalter to Reculver, down to Nailbourne and across to Chartham and Stone Street, is part of Canterbury City Council. You have 39 councillors, across 21 wards, each councillor represents approximately 3,100 voters. There you go.
What does it do? Well, broadly: parking, bins and waste, social housing, planning licencing and a lot of other things as well. The council also collects, and to a certain extent sets, council tax, which is probably most people’s main experience. If you look at your council tax bill you’ll see that a lot of this goes on the services mentioned above, as well as police and fire.
A lot of the money collected by Canterbury City Council goes to the county council or to central government, and a large amount of what it does isn’t funded by tax at all, but other businesses and investments, such as parking. Hopefully we can talk tax and spending a bit more another time. In a nutshell, Canterbury City Council is a pretty big business in its own right, and a lot of what it does goes largely unnoticed on a daily basis, which is probably a good sign.
In terms of the day-to-day, well I’m not entirely sure what that will hold over the next four years. As a councillor, my first job is to represent the residents in my ward, along with the two other councillors. And that means all of them, even the ones who didn’t vote for me. I’ve already got a fair few emails, and I have a feeling that will grow.
I really do hope that I can help people, and I’m pretty sure that is true of the other 38 councillors, regardless the colour of their rosettes (what is it with rosettes, by the way?). After trying my best to help everyone that gets in touch, I’ll sit in council meetings and maybe the odd committee and discuss some of those big expensive things I mentioned earlier. There are a lot of issues that are close to my heart and many that people have mentioned to me over recent months on the campaign trail, and I’ll do my best to make my voice heard on those.
Then, maybe, after that, there might be some time for politics.