Councillor Elections, May 2017: What’s it all about?

Did you know that on May 4th this year, the people of Splott and surrounding areas will get to vote on who they want to represent them at a local level?

It’s true!  All 22 local authorities in Wales will host a vote, one year later than usual.  The last one was in 2012, meaning that this one should have been held last year in 2016 (you know that four year rule, like the Olympics and World Cup?) but it was delayed by one year so that it didn’t clash with last year’s Assembly elections.

So, the polling stations will be open and we’ll all get to cast our vote, but what are councillors exactly and what do they do?

Councillors are elected members of a local authority – in our case, Cardiff Council.  They are members of a political party (our current three councillors, Edward Stubbs, Huw Thomas and Gretta Marshall, are Labour, Labour and Plaid Cymru respectively) but have a duty to fairly represent their community, be it on a collective or individual basis, and balance this with what their party is striving for and also the strategic ambitions of the council.  This can often put them in a tricky position!

Councillors help determine how local services are provided, funded and prioritised.  Basically, it is the role of the Councillor to work on behalf of the people of their electoral ward (in our case, Splott).

So what kinds of things do they have a say on?  More than you might think.  Councils have control over things like education (providing schools, school transport, adult learning); Housing (social housing); Social Services (caring for and protecting children, older people and disabled people);  Highways and Transport (road maintenance, traffic diversions); Rubbish collection (though they call this ‘Waste Management’) and recycling; Leisure and Cultural Services (libraries, leisure services and arts venues); Trading standards and licencing taxis; Environmental Health (hygiene certification for restaurants etc); Planning (local planning permission and building safety); Economic Development (touting for new businesses and encouraging tourism); Emergency planning for floods, terrorist attacks etc).

But what are they expected to do?  Sometimes it’s as personal as assisting one single person who asks for their help.  ‘Mrs Splott, you say your whole street is fed up with this pothole? Let me take that to the council for you.’  ‘Mr Splott, you say your community group wants to take over that building that may be otherwise demolished?  Let me show you who to speak to and how to get your voice heard.’ ‘People of Splott, OK, I hear you – we want more trees!  I’m on it!’

However, it’s not all about doing everything for us.  Councillors are also there to show us the way.  They can point us in the right direction when we want to take up a cause ourselves.  When the paperwork and bureaucracy is so complex it may stop us before we start (damn those bureaucrats!), Councillors may be able to clear the mire and help us find direction.  That means cut through the bullshit.

But being a councillor isn’t easy.  It takes up a lot of time (going out and about meeting people, running Councillor Surgeries, attending meetings, campaigning for what they believe in) and that’s on top of their normal jobs!  Did you know that Councillors are paid around £13,000 a year, which means that most need to supplement these earnings by bringing in another salary?  So most Councillors will also have a ‘day job’.

Over the next few months, Inksplott will be running interviews with the candidates for this May’s election (well, the ones that want to talk to me!) so that we can all make an informed decision on which box to cross when it comes to it.

To ensure you have a vote in the local elections, make sure you register to vote by the 13th of April.  Register to vote here

May the fourth be with you Splottlanders!

Want to find out more about Councils and the role of Councillors?  Here’s a handy PDF you can download