Sunday, 1 June 2014

Musings of an Ex-Councillor on the 2014 Local Harrow Council Elections

Congratulations to all those that won a place on the council for the next four years. If you take being a councillor seriously then you are in for four years of:


I used to measure my reading by the inch rather than the page. It's not just the officer reports for the various committees that you serve, it is also the background reading so that you can understand the subject of the officer's reports. There are also the documents that belong to the external bodies that you are appointed to, such as local charities or the board of governors of local schools. In addition you have a volume of email from the council, from the residents you represent and from a range of organisations that are trying to influence or inform you or raise the status of an event that they are organising by requesting your attendance.


Largely within your own party group, but these discussions are really important. Aggregation of the various skills, backgrounds, personality, views from your local area and intelligence of the individuals within your group is important in developing the composite ability of the party group and to develop its knowledge. The composite of all of you will provide a better all-round view of what our communities want and make for better policy making. There will be rows, big ones, but no matter what the differences are they should not spill out of the party group, once the idea has been voted upon and agreed by the majority, then that should be the view of the whole group. Councillors, though, need a kind of ideas “litter” where crap ideas can be deposited and challenged without public castigation. The party groups fulfil that function quite wellJ. Hold onto the belief that you achieve far more together than is possible as an individual. Remember the last Labour group, the damage due to their split and what subsequently happened in the election to the individuals that split away from the party group.

The advantages of aggregation do not appear to exist for independent members and is probably one of their weaknesses.

Attending meetings

Some will be terminally boring and often characterised by poor questions from councillor colleagues that appear to either not read their documents or who fail to understand them. Often council meetings and the sub-committees degenerate into political point scoring, but at their best they embody excellent cross party cooperation. I certainly valued the ideas of colleagues from all parties (and none). Sadly independent members appeared to take little part in these important sub-committees as the statistics below indicate. You can see the full statistics of attendance on the following webpage

Meeting attendances for the last 4 years taken from the council website:

Top attenders

Meetings Attended
Thaya Idaikkadar
ILG & Labour
Keith Ferry
Susan Hall

Independents and single member parties

Meetings Attended
Christopher Noyce
Liberal Democrat
Stanley Sheinwald
Independent & Conservative
James Bond

My own attendance figure was 132


You should budget to spend a significant number of evenings over the next few months at the excellent series training courses that Harrow Council officers will provide. These training courses are regarded as amongst the best provided by any local authority in the country. They are so good that they used to attract a “Quality Mark”. Sadly this was lost because at the last external assessment we could not show that sufficient Councillors turned up to avail themselves of this excellent training. I think that the average figure for Councillor attendees was around 20%. I remember feeling very sorry for the officers who had spent so much effort to develop and deliver the training to have so few councillors attend. I remember the frustration expressed by the councillor who chaired the Members Development Panel at the low take up of the training.

Much more can be said, and probably will be. But to finish:

Last pieces of advice…

  1. Make sure that you make a positive effort to meet as many ordinary people in the ward you represent, attend resident association meetings, Safer Neighbourhood Panel meetings etc. so that you are fully in touch with the people and can represent them fairly.
  2. Get involved with the council sub-committees and policy making (those that do not will show up on the council attendance statistics)
  3. Stay in touch with the members of your own party in the ward that you represent, particularly if you do not live there, make sure that you attend their meetings.
  4. And! Attend the training courses!!

Best wishes to all 63 of you…

Follow me on Twitter at @Pinns35

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