Have you heard of Build-a-Bear? It is a shop where children can go to build their perfect furry friend. They decide what they would like – the furriest fur, the biggest heart, the brownest eyes – and then they assemble the parts to create their perfect bear. What has this got to do with parish and town councils I hear you ask?! Well the concept can apply to building the perfect councillor, and the perfect councillor team. Of course, it's not quite as easy as going to a shop and assembling the parts, but councils and communities have an opportunity at election time or when there is a casual vacancy to fill to think about what would make the perfect councillor, and to then go out and find it.

The concept was developed into a presentation that was delivered at the AGM of the Society of Local Council Clerks Northamptonshire Branch in September and then to the SLCC National Conference in October. Just over 100 parish and town clerks attended across the two events and as part of the presentation they were asked to describe their "perfect councillor", the results were quite surprising.

Here is a list, in no particular order, of the skills, qualities and attributes of the "perfect" councillor identified during the presentation:

- Communicative and responsive (e.g. to e-mails sent out by Clerk)

- A good listener and a skilled communicator

- Be generally honest and decent

- Prepared for meetings (e.g. has read the agenda and papers in advance)

- A team player, not trying to control everyone else

- Focused on and passionate about the community

- Available for meetings and accessible in between meetings

- Be skilled and knowledgeable and confident

- Have vision and be forward thinking and proactive

- Ability to think strategically and to understand the council's strategy and to think long term (more than four years!)

- Be knowledgeable on the council's financial position and forward plan

- Be flexible and prepared to consider different routes to the same goal

- Understands their responsibilities and takes them seriously

- Accepts corporate responsibility

- Understands the role of officers and that the council is an employer

- Not always focused on one issue, but interested in everything

- No personal agendas or vanity projects

- Don't treat council as a personal fiefdom. Be focused on community outcomes

- If dual or triple hatted, don't bring principal authority agenda or politics to parish/town council

- Know when the time is right to retire/resign

- Respect the professional knowledge and objectivity of officers

- Understands the powers of the council and that it is spending public money

- Willing to learn and develop and undertake training

- Come up with and be open to new ideas, and challenge old working practices and demonstrate leadership

- Stay awake and alert in meetings

- Be supportive of staff and understand the constraints of the job and be approachable and available

- Have respect for the contracted working hours of officers and recognise the right of employees to a work/life balance

- Willing to participate and get involved – don't sit back

- Be polite and respectful to other councillors and officers

- Treat others with respect and dignity; no inappropriate contact or comments

- Understand and abide by the Code of Conduct

- Be committed, enthusiastic, have a positive outlook and a can-do attitude

- Be computer literate and willing to work electronically

- Understand and accept how (slowly!) local government works and be patient but tenacious

- Have a sense of humour!

Having listed the skills, qualities and attributes of the perfect councillor (and it turned out to be a slightly longer list than just having the furriest fur), three key opportunities to influence the makeup of the councillor team were identified:

recruitment, induction and training

Recruitment is an opportunity to set out what the council and community wants in terms of a person specification for the ideal councillor. Of course, anyone over the age of 18 is entitled to be a councillor if they meet the eligibility criteria, so it is not possible to use the listed attributes to exclude someone from taking office. However, a carefully crafted recruitment notice goes a long way to attracting good candidates.

Consider the following text for example:

"As a councillor representing your community you will help keep it a great place to live and work. You will be supported in your role and will be expected to undertake training. You should be comfortable working electronically. You should have a positive outlook and a can-do attitude and be willing to work as part of a team."

Training, or continuous professional development, is essential for all councillors.

There are no easy answers or quick wins, but accepting the concept that there is a person specification for the role of councillor, and that recruitment to that role or development of persons already in that role, is away of influencing the make-up of the council, means that over time and with a little effort the council can gradually raise its game and become a stronger, better and more united team.

Danny Moody, Chief Executive, Northants CALC

Posted: Tue, 23 Jan 2018 08:37 by Becky Jones

Tags: Consultation, Councillors, News, community