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Dear new councillor…. Departing local politicians hand down advice for new recruits

'Don’t press ‘send’ after more than three glasses of wine unless it’s a really funny email'

08 May, 2018 — By Richard Osley

WITH 13 Camden councillors stepping down from the Town Hall ahead of last week’s council elections, the New Journal asked the departees what advice they would be handing down to the new crop of local politicians elected on Thursday.


IT’S a real honour to serve your community, but you won’t be able to achieve everything you set out to achieve, or that your community want you to achieve. And sometimes you’ll just plain disagree. However difficult it sometimes feels, it’s better to be honest about what can and can’t be done and why you’re putting your effort elsewhere. This is particularly true while the council continues to face massive cuts.

Remember to have fun too. It can be really hard work and thankless, but it’s also a great way to get to meet and work with people that you wouldn’t normally come in to contact with.


Take your time to get to know your member support team, the departments and the council officers, so you can make proper progress with casework without faffing around. Also, work out early on what committees, groups or issues you will add most value to rather than trying to be all things to all people.


Go door-knocking outside of election time, even an hour on Friday evening, because it is a good way to start having relationships with your residents and knowing them well. It doesn’t matter if you can’t solve everyone’s problems, but they want you to be honest, to listen to them and take them seriously.

ROGER FREEMAN Conservative

Do your best to avoid dividing the world into them and us, where the them are the council officers and members of other political parties. Enjoy it and look forward to the variety of experiences, from having to deal with the emotions of people having a hard time to being in situations where you need to be very analytical.

ANDREW MARSHALL, Liberal Democrat

Every councillor has different family and financial circumstances.  My advice would be strongly to avoid neglecting the day job and your career too much – you will never get this back.   Your political party and the Council and your constituents will keep asking for your time – you need to be ready to say no.    There are no real full time roles as a councillor – I agree with our previous chief executive (Moira Gibb) that being leader is probably a three day a week job, being a cabinet member, at most, one day a week (ie in the sense that it’s compatible with four days in an outside job). Don’t try and do officers’ jobs.  Do take the opportunity to visit council staff and facilities in the early days and find things out first hand.  If you become a cabinet member, what officers most want, rightly, is that you can take a decision and defend it in public. Try and balance how much attention you give the 50 constituents you see most, and balance that against the 9,000 in your ward, and 220,000 in Camden and indeed those who will live here in ten years time.



Press for the use of Skype. It makes a big difference to finish a meeting and be at home rather than having half an hour on the Northern Line. Press for members support to be able to check you emails to ensure that they have all received a reply. Keep up good relationships with councillor of all political parties. Remember that all councillors are broadly trying to achieve the same thing but in politics there is always more than one way to skin a cat. You sometimes have more influence in the pub than in the council chamber. Don’t press ‘send’ after more than three glasses of wine…………..unless it’s a really funny email. I was emphatically told never to put my personal mobile and home number on the internet. I defiantly ignored this advice and made both numbers public access. There was one rude phone call and my wife put the person firmly in their place. I will probably be the last councillor to do this.


Being a councillor could be the most rewarding thing you ever do. But there’s more to life than Camden Town Hall so don’t become institutionalised. Choose two or three things you really care about. It will take you years to achieve meaningful change but it is possible. Tweeting your opinions or issuing a press release criticising someone for doing something is not the same as actually doing something. You represent 8,000 – 10,000 people in your ward (including all the children and young people) and it’s your duty to represent all of them. The tiny minority of these who email you, turn up to public / party meetings and write to the press are extremely unrepresentative of them. Make sure you knock on doors to reaffirm that most people barely notice anything that the council does and couldn’t care less about Town Hall politics. If you try to appease every NIMBY with a vested interest then you’ll never get anything done. Be a sign post not a weather vane.


Your residents come first. You represent your party and that is important, but it is your residents who elect you so remain close to them and be attentive to their needs.  Don’t be afraid to ask. There is no way that you will be an expert in everything that the council does and you should feel free to ask fellow councillors as well as Camden’s excellent officers to guide you.  Utilise Camden’s staff to the full, but use your own judgement. While it is the democratically-elected councillors who are in the media spotlight, the unsung heroes who make Camden run are our officers. They should be engaged, respected and taken seriously. However, many of the decisions come down to judgement calls, and you should use your own experience, as well as the needs of Camden residents, to make decisions. Sometimes these will be different to officer advice. Don’t be afraid to challenge decisions, but make sure to listen to the replies that you get.



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