What is a councillor?
A councillor is someone who is elected by local people to represent them on a local council. In Oxfordshire you can be elected to a parish or town council, a district council and the county council. County councillors are elected for a four year term. It is a role that many of our current elected members have described as both enjoyable and demanding. Councillors need to be willing to engage with their local communities and reflect views in an increasingly challenging environment.
Video about becoming a councillor
What inspired you to become a councillor?
Cllr Laura Price:
I’d become quite involved with a few different projects within my community, so I’d been involved in improving some play areas and then from that I’d been involved in trying to stop a price increase in our adult day centre for over 65’s, and so that was my first experience of coming into County Hall, where I addressed the Adult Social Care Committee at the time, and I’d never done anything like that before. It was quite nerve –wracking, but actually at the end of it I kind of felt a big sense of satisfaction to be involved in something where the decision-making was actually taking place, so it made me feel more confident about the idea of standing.
Cllr Neil Fawcett:
It’s primarily because I want to stand up for my community. Like everywhere else, in my patch in Abingdon there are lots of issues that people face, particularly traffic, we did have other issues around early education and primary education and I just wanted to try and help improve this for people
Cllr David Bartholomew:
You don’t become a councillor for money, your become a councillor because you want to do things, you want to make a difference; you want to change things and you care about things.
Cllr Lynda Atkins:
I think it was two things; first of all, my mother was a town councillor for a number of years and having seen what she did it seemed to me like a useful, worthwhile thing to do, and the other thing was that I found myself one day looking at something on a street that wasn’t quite right, and thinking “’they’ should do something about that” and it suddenly occurred to me that I had no idea who ‘they’ were, and that somebody needed to step up and be one of ‘them’, to get that sort of thing done. So, that was how it all started.
What advice do you wish someone would have given you before standing?
Cllr Neil Fawcett:
What I try and do is I think through very carefully what I’m trying to achieve and what my involvement at the county council level needs to be in order to achieve that, and sometimes, because I do work fulltime, sometimes there are clashes and sometimes I just prioritise my work and occasionally my family over a meeting.
Generally speaking, most of what you achieve as a councillor you don’t achieve by sitting in meetings. Mostly you achieve it either in your community or by dealing with council officers directly. So I don’t think that anyone needs to feel that they have to come in and spend hours and hours sitting in County Hall, and I certainly try not to.
Cllr David Bartholomew:
There are lots of battles that you will fight and you’ve got to be used to losing a big chunk of those, but when you really care about something, and you do get a result then that is immeasurably satisfying and you really do think that you have made a difference in the community and to the people that you represent.
Cllr Laura Price:
It would be good I think for someone to sit down and say “yeah, you don’t have to take everything on your shoulders yourself, you’re part of something bigger and you can share that weight with people”. Everybody has different strengths and skills. So some people really, really love getting up and having a really adversarial debate in Chamber. I don’t particularly enjoy that aspect of things, but at the same time, I really like getting in front of a community meeting and being able to talk to people and pulling lots of different threads and thoughts and opinions, and I know that perhaps other people that are better at giving set-piece speeches that don’t like the lack of control over that sort of thing.
So I think learning to say “NO” and pick and choose what you do, and also always working co-operatively with your colleagues so that you can share your skills and stress and the worry, and then also the rewards as well.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of standing?
Cllr Lynda Atkins:
I’d say give it a go. I would say that for anyone considering standing for election, just popping up when the election is called and saying “OK – everybody vote for me!” is not likely to be a success. I think you need to be working for your community and with local people for a while beforehand, so that you get to know the area that you are going to be representing and the people and the issues that are important there.
But don’t let worrying about what might be involved stop you. Try it. If you don’t like it, you can always stand down. If you don’t think it’s the thing for you, well fair enough, but, give it a go, because I think you might surprise yourself. It’s certainly something I find very worthwhile.
Cllr Neil Fawcett:
I’d say go for it. If you’re standing, if you’re going to stand for a party talk to other councillors in your party and find out and get their advice. If you are standing as an individual, then go for it; check out the basics. Make sure you can at least afford the minimum amount of time that is necessary. But basically, go for it. Anybody can be a councillor. It’s nothing…there’s nothing special about it. You don’t need any particular skills other than what normal life prepares you for.
Cllr David Bartholomew:
Because it’s not going to be for everybody. You might think about it and then find out a bit more and think “well, actually I can’t do that”. But you’ll also probably find that your doubts may slip away and you’ll be very, very fired up to give it a go.
Cllr Laura Price
Probably, don’t give it too much thought and just go for it and don’t over-analyse it. If you’ve got a sense within you that you think you want to have a go at it then just have a go at it and see. I think you will soon find your step and you’re elected for a set period. You can always review it and decide if you want to run again. But you might find that in that time you have experienced something that you can’t really get from any other kind of role, I don’t think.
What do councillors do?
Councillors are there to:
- collectively be the ultimate policy-makers for the council, making major decisions on the services the council provides, setting the budget and overseeing how services are run;
- represent the interests of people in their division (the area they are elected to represent) collectively, as well as dealing with individual concerns when they arise;
- respond to electors enquiries and concerns in a fair and impartial manner;
- contribute to and participate in the good governance of the council;
- take part in locality meetings and parish council meetings for their electoral division,
- encourage their constituents to participate and become involved in the decision making process;
- maintain personal high standards of conduct and ethics in compliance with the Members' Code of Conduct;
The county council’s formal meetings are all held during working hours. Full council meets seven times a year and each meeting lasts a day. Briefing sessions are often scheduled to be held at the end of a full council meeting, particularly where the subject matter is one of interest to all members of council.
From May 2017, full council will start at 10.30am.
The council’s Cabinet carries out functions and make key decisions which are not the responsibility of any other part of the council, either by law or under the Constitution. The Cabinet is made up of the Leader and Deputy Leader of the Council, and currently seven other members of council. They meet on a monthly basis, except in August when the council is in recess.
Overview and Scrutiny committees
The council have two Scrutiny Committees and a joint health overview and scrutiny committee. These each meet four times a year and broadly, help to improve service provision, inform policy and ensure that value for money is achieved. Members of Cabinet are not eligible to sit on a scrutiny committee and vice versa.
Regulatory and other committees
The council appoint four regulatory committees that meet at varying intervals throughout the year, and may also arrange to meet at additional times if necessary.
Further information relating to the council’s committees, are available on the Meetings and Decisions pages.
Each kind of council (county, district, town and parish) provides a different set of services to its local area.
Oxfordshire County Council is responsible for:
- services for children, young people and families
- some schools (those that have not converted to academy status)
- social care
- community services such as adult learning, museums and libraries
- roads and traffic
- fire and rescue
- trading standards
- waste disposal
- the commissioning and scrutiny of health services.
The business of the county council can have a greater impact on people, focusing skills on influencing the community and social infrastructure of the area and providing a result for constituents.
Oxfordshire comprises five district authorities:
District councils deal with issues local to their areas including:
- Council tax collection
- Refuse and recycling collections
- Licensing applications
- Electoral registration
- Local planning applications
Further information can be found on our district council's page.
Parish and Town Councils
By attending meetings of the parish or town councils within their divisions, councillors act as a means of channelling information, and develop an awareness of local non-political activities, as well as dealing with important but immediate issues including:
- bus shelters
- cemeteries and
Further information on parish and town councils can be found at the website for the Oxfordshire Association of Local Councils.
The locality meetings are held by the county council for each of the five different areas of the county. These are not public meetings, but provide members with an opportunity to discuss local issues as they start to emerge. They also allow members to network and strengthen working relationships with key council officers.
Councillors also spend time getting to know other organisations and services in their area and may be appointed by their council as representatives to some of these local organisations.
You can learn more about what the county council and other councils do on our government in Oxfordshire pages.
How much time does it take up?
It depends on how much time, effort and commitment each individual councillor is able to give to the role. However, most elected members are likely to give the role a minimum of one day per week, although other councillors spend considerably more time than this, especially if they have taken on a leading Cabinet role.
Will I get paid?
You will not get a salary but all Oxfordshire County Councillors are entitled to:
- a basic allowance, which is currently £10,100 per year,
- travelling and subsistence expenses, and
- a dependant carer's allowance (for costs incurred for childcare and the care of other dependent relatives), which occur as a result of carrying out duties as a councillor.
Councillors with special responsibilities (such as members of the council's cabinet and chairmen of committees) will receive additional allowances.
We also provide other kinds of support such as an initial induction programme with on-going training and access to a councillors' resource centre.
Do I get time off work?
This depends largely on your employer, but anyone considering whether or not to stand as a councillor should bear in mind that there is no statutory right to paid time off work to attend council meetings.
Some employers are good at encouraging their employees to be councillors and do allow time off within reason.
Anyone considering standing for election as a councillor should always discuss this issue with their employer before standing.
Although Section 50 of the Employment Rights Act 1996, provides that time off may be allowed for certain, but not all, public duties, this is largely at the discretion of individual employers.
Do I have to be political?
No. You do not have to be identified with a political party, although most councillors are.
The county council is currently represented by councillors from the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties. There are also independent councillors serving on the council some of whom have formed an Independant Group.
There is advice available nationally fromfor anyone considering standing as an independent.
How do I become a councillor?
To become a councillor, you must stand for, and win, an election in one of the county's electoral divisions (there are currently 61 electoral divisions, which are represented by 63 members).
The Oxfordshire County Council is elected in its entirety every four years. The last election for Oxfordshire County Council was held on Thursday 4 May 2017 and the next scheduled election is May 2021.
Who can stand for election?
If you wish to stand for election you must be:
- a British citizen, a citizen of the Commonwealth, the Republic of Ireland or of another European Union State
- 18 or over
- included on the register of electors for Oxfordshire or be someone who has either lived or worked in the county for the 12 months preceding the election.
You are unable to stand for election as a councillor if:
- in the last 5 years you have been in prison or on a suspended sentence for 3 months or more
- you have been declared bankrupt
- you are an employee of Oxfordshire County Council
- you have been disqualified.
You will need nomination papers. When there is an election, either a full election or an unscheduled by-election occurring when a seat becomes vacant, once the formal Notice of Election has been published, nomination papers are available from the individual district council's election office for the area in which you wish to stand.
The district council’s elections staff will be able to answer your questions about the nomination process.
You need to be nominated to stand as a candidate at the election by:
- two electors of the electoral division (as your proposer and seconder)
- eight other electors (supporting your nomination).
An elector is anyone who is on the register of electors for that division.
Further information on serving your community as a councillor can be found by downloading the Local Government Association’s guide: Be a Councillor (pdf).