“Local elections? Again!? I’m sure we had them this time last year…”, writes local democracy reporter Richard Beecham.
It’s a common thing I hear when I mention forthcoming local elections to family and friends, but their punishing regularity should not diminish how important they are.
But how and why are they important? Why do we need them? What are candidates elected to do? Let me fill you in with the basics of local elections.
How is the council made up?
Each city is split into zones of thousands of people – these are known as wards. Each ward needs three councillors to represent it. As Leeds has 33 wards, this leaves the authority with 99 councillors.
For most local elections, one seat from each ward will be up for grabs, and whoever gets elected is able to hold on to the seat for four years.
Currently, the council is made up of a majority of 61 Labour councillors, meaning they have control of the authority.
How is this different from a general election?
General elections are to pick Members of Parliament, who represent what are known as constituencies – areas made up of roughly between 60,000 and 80,000 voters – in Westminster.
Leeds is covered by seven constituencies, which each MP has a duty to represent in the House of Commons. Some MPs also take part in law-making committees or have high-powered ministerial roles.
So what do councillors do?
You’ll be aware of local councils and what they do. From overseeing schools, to emptying bins, to looking after roads and everything in between – they form the machinery on which towns and cities are run.
But, as a city’s needs and means are forever changing, this means decisions also need to be made on any alterations to how things are run – this is where councillors come in.
A good local councillor will know of all the issues affecting their ward, and will speak out about any concerns faced by the residents of their ward.
Many sit on council panels and committees, which make decisions on contentious planning or licensing applications; while some sit on scrutiny boards, which investigate the effectiveness of each council department.
The most high profile council members sit on the Executive Board. These are members with specific responsibilities around decision-making for each council department – eg. Children and Families, Transport and Planning, Environment. The head of this committee is the leader of the council, currently Judith Blake.
I heard they get paid loads…
Well here’s the thing – a councillor technically doesn’t receive a salary. Many fit their council duties around other jobs.
What they do receive, however, are allowances – each councillor is able to claim a basic remuneration of up to £15,228 a year for the work that they do, while further allowances are made for extra responsibility.
For example, chairs of plans panels, which rule on whether contentious developments should take place, can claim up to £13,796.
Leader and deputy leader of the council are full time jobs in themselves, and those in these posts can claim up to £39,418 and £25,622 respectively.
How do I register to vote?
If you’re not already registered, visit this website.
I think I could make a difference – how could I become a councillor?
It’s too late for you to put your name down to run in this year’s election, but it’s the sort of thing you should be in for the long haul.
Your most likely chance of getting elected is if you are nominated through a political party. This would mean joining a local party and getting involved with their campaigning and events – if they like what they see, they may ask if you want to run for a seat in a council ward at a forthcoming local election.
Alternatively, if you think you can woo voters all by yourself, you can simply stand as an independent. However, as voters tend to vote for political parties, a successful campaign would take a LOT of hard work and door-knocking!
Find out more – remember to keep an eye out for our coverage over the coming weeks! See our coverage so far – and a list of candidates – here.
Updated 12.37pm: We have removed an inaccurate reference to all-out elections in the copy.
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