Overworked, underpaid and unpopular – why would anyone be a councillor? Most comprehensive ever review aims to find out


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A national independent review of the role of local government councillors  has been launched which could help change the stereotypical image of a councillor and improve the status of those who take up the job.

De Montfort University Leicester (DMU)’s Local Government Research Unit will run the Councillor Commission to build up the most comprehensive picture so far of the work carried out by councillors, the hours they put in, issues and problems faced and support given by local authorities.

Its work has been supported by Clive Betts MP, Chair of the House of Commons Communities and Local Government Committee. While the inquiry is independent, it will submit a final report to Mr Betts for consideration.

Professor Colin Copus, of DMU’s Department of Politics and Public Policy, is chair of the new commission. He said: “I'm delighted to launch this new inquiry which aims to produce a complete understanding of the pressures and tensions experienced by councillors and to present a range of options for strengthening the way in which councillors can govern, represent and serve their communities.”

Colin Copus image

Research has shown that the make up of many councils across the UK does not properly reflect the communities they serve, with fewer women or people from black or ethnic minority (BME) backgrounds attracted to the role. A 2010 study found about 47% of councillors were retired.

Councillors across the country are being asked to help by contacting the Commission to talk about their experiences. Workshops will also be held around the country between now and August with the final report due to be published in September.

It is hoped that the report will give policymakers a better understanding of the role and the contribution councillors make to their communities.

Council officers, academics, community groups and other interested parties are also being asked for their views. A dedicated email councillors@dmu.ac.uk has been set up for people to get in touch.

Prof Copus added: “The idea is that the report does not sit on the shelf but is used to forward debate and see real changes in the way councillors are able to operate and govern.”

Prof Copus is the author of a report dubbed ‘Magna Carta 2.0’.  Last year, he was called to give evidence to the Houses of Parliament on ideas for changing the conventional view of councillors.

Commissioners are Sir Merrick Cockell, chairman of UK Municipal Bonds Agency and London Pensions Fund Authority; Jessica Crowe of the London Borough of Sutton head of customers, commissioning and governance; Heather Jameson, editor of Municipal Journal; Jacqui Mckinley, executive director, Centre for Public Scrutiny; Lord Gary Porter, chairman of the Local Government Association and Anthony Zarcharzewski, director of the Democratic Society.

Prof Copus added: “I'm also delighted that the chairman of the Local Government Association is supporting the commission - as a commissioner - and that the chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee has expressed considerable interest in the work of the commission and its findings.

“Working alongside the Municipal Journal - whose editor is also a commissioner - will enable us to reach a wide local government audience for our work.

“I’d encourage councillors and all those concerned with local government and democracy to submit evidence through our dedicated email.”

This commission is part-funded by #DMUlocal, the university’s embodiment of its commitment to the public good. Research funded by #DMUlocal uses the skills of staff to effect positive change.

Posted on Monday 18th January 2016

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