Immerse yourself. Local government is complex but when you add in ‘code of conduct’ and ‘constitution’ training, and have worked out which scrutiny committee does what, you’ll realise how enormous it really is.
So throw yourself into it, but realise that there will come a point when you’ll know where you can best spend your time.
‘The bloody council’. There will be a honeymoon period where council critics will hold high hopes for the future and you can do no wrong, but sooner or later you will be labelled a self-serving, in-it-for-yourself crook and liar.
While I’m a fan of social media, there will probably be an online group who have a strong opinion on your actions, and will happily share their thoughts on the internet.
Build relationships. You are a potential threat to an established way of working, and other members will want to know if you will support them. On the flip side, there are officers and councillors who want to see change and it’s important to work with them. To get things done, you’ll need to build your credibility.
Leadership. You are a leader of both your community and council. This is more explicit in my case as I am a cabinet member. Finding your feet is not easy but, by being clear in my objectives, building my credibility and by being authentic, I think I’m getting there. I’ve also had to remind myself that leading change is difficult.
Pace and process. Local government can be painfully slow. As someone who’s worked in the technology sector, it’s been a challenge to increase the speed of our transformation programme but I’ve been fortunate enough to have some brilliant senior staff to work with.
Balance. Depending on your availability and other commitments, you will need to find the balance of your work in the council, on the council, and in your community. You also still have a life and will need to take some downtime.
Expect the unexpected. You’re on call 24/7 and you’ll have to deal with wide-ranging issues where people genuinely need your help. That’s a big responsibility but incredibly fulfilling, and it’s what people elected you for. They don’t really care about the brilliant contribution you made in scrutiny, they care about the grass being cut and the bins being collected.
Council is theatre. I watch and listen to the more experienced in the chamber for the way they construct their arguments and their timing. And while it’s daunting, it’s important to get on your feet and be part of it.
Fulfilment and purpose. People have put their faith in you to serve them, and this is your priority. It’s critical to remember that you work for them.
Enjoy it. It’s a privilege to serve and I’m going to make sure I enjoy it, bring my personality to it, make the most of the experience and do my best.
No two councillors’ experiences will be the same, but I hope that my thoughts above will help anyone brave enough to enter the democratic arena fashion a way through the first year of elected life.