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The council elections are over and those elected have taken their positions. But what do county borough and city councillors actually do?
People become councillors for a range of reasons, they could be an active member of their community wanting to make a change, or committed to a political party.
Councillors are elected members of a local authority who represent the residents in their area, and their political party, if they are part of one.
All councillors represent a ward, which is an area within a county, therefore they have responsibility for hyper-local issues in addition to making decisions on county wide issues.
When approached with an issue or concern, councillors should act as advocates for their communities. Additionally, they have influence over how local services are run and provided.
Being a member of voluntary groups – such as a litter picking club – and being a school governor is common for councillors, as it enables them to be informed on what’s happening in their ward and keep in touch with residents.
A report by the Welsh Local Government Association said: “Being a councillor takes personal commitment and to do the role effectively requires a significant amount of time, on top of personal and employment commitments.
“However, becoming a councillor is a rewarding and privileged form of public service and, if elected, you will be in a position to make a difference to the quality of other people’s daily lives and prospects.”
Being a councillor is a part-time role, therefore they will often have other jobs alongside their public role. The annual salary for a councillor is £16,800 – this is increased if they are in a senior role with additional responsibilities, such as a Cabinet Member.
More information on how local government is run – and the difference between county councils and community councils – can be found here.
Councillors are expected to attend and contribute to meetings and are provided with an agenda and report to read beforehand.
If a decision is being made on a report, policy, or a planning application then all councillors on that committee will have one vote each and can vote for, against, or abstain. All committees are made up of the different parties proportionally to the number of councillors the party has on the local authority.
One Newport councillor has said local government should be on the school curriculum – so that young people are informed on the council and a councillors role.
Councillor Carmel Townsend
Councillor Carmel Townsend, who represents the St Julians ward in Newport, said there is no “typical” day as a councillor – receiving emails, calls or knocks on the door, being asked to speak at planning committees on behalf of residents, and dealing with local issues.
The Liberal Democrats councillor said there is a lack of understanding of what councillors do and how a council is run – and this should be on the school curriculum.
She added: “Young people should know how the council is elected, who represents them, and where their council tax is spent.”
As a former journalist, Cllr Townsend said her skills from being in the news industry have helped her to be a better councillor.
She said: “It’s helped me know how to get information and question when I’m being told that something can’t be done, I ask myself why can’t this be done?”
Cllr Townsend has been a councillor – intermittently – for nearly ten years, she was a councillor between 2008 and 2012 for St Julians, and in 2016 she was re-elected in a by-election – replacing her husband, Ed Townsend, who had passed away after a short illness.
Cllr Townsend said: “It was emotional at the time but we just got stuck in to it – I was grieving but that just pushed me. Years later, I still feel very honoured to represent St Julians.
Following the council elections in May, Cllr Townsend is the only Liberal Democrat councillor in Newport, which she said was “lonely” at times, but added that she had a good relationship with the other councillors.
Councillor Elizabeth Aldworth
Councillor Elizabeth Aldworth has been a councillor for over 30 years after being first elected to represent Bedwas, Trethomas and Machen in 1991.
The Caerphilly County Borough Councillor said: “It was the most wonderful feeling that people had the confidence to put a cross by my name – I was ecstatic.”
At the council’s Annual General Meeting held on May 19, Cllr Aldworth was sworn in as the Mayor.
Prior to becoming a councillor, Cllr Aldworth was a shorthand secretary, a job she said has taught her many skills which she implements in her role as a councillor.
The Labour councillor said she has been mainly working from home over the past couple of years due to the pandemic. She added: “I was old fashioned with council work at the beginning, lots of people came to my home to tell me about their issues, but now it’s mostly phone calls or emails.”
When out socialising or celebratin, Cllr Aldworth said she has been approached by residents with an issue – but she doesn’t mind, because that’s her role as a public figure.
Cllr Aldworth, who now represents Bedwas and Trethomas after the ward boundary was redrawn, said once she has dealt with an issue she moves straight on to the next. As a result, it’s difficult to remember all the small victories – but a reoccurring issue is the surrounding coal tips, a topic that she has files on that date back years.
The newly elected Mayor and long-term councillor said: “Anyone putting themselves forward for a job like this should be respected, no matter the party – there’s no need to make enemies. The chamber is for debate but outside we should be able to chat amicably.
“Being a councillor has been my life and I thoroughly enjoy it.”
Councillor John Taylor
John Taylor is another long-serving councillor after first being elected to the Rhymney Valley Council in 1983.
Cllr Taylor represents the Aber Valley ward for Plaid Cymru in Caerphilly County Borough, he said: “It’s important that councillors are actually part of the community, not just a representative, but part of the area too.
“I became a councillor because I wanted to do more for my community, and also because I strongly believe in Plaid Cymru’s policies.”
Cllr Taylor said holding surgeries – or coffee mornings as he prefers to call them – is the best way for him to connect with residents.
He added: “Calling it a coffee morning means people can just pop in for a chat and get to know us, they don’t have to have a problem. But if they do, and you can assist someone with an injustice or to get something for them that they need, that in itself is a reward.
“It doesn’t matter tha party, just that there’s a local councillor there that can sort it out. ”
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Councillor John Jones
Councillor John Jones is relatively new to Newport City Council, after first being elected in August 2021, in a by-election. He said his experience of being a councillor is “just becoming real because of Covid”.
The Graig councillor added: “I’m a face-to-face person because that’s when you get the best results. I’m able to see what the residents are concerned about, and relay this to officers.”
Cllr Jones said his perception of a councillors role is “investigation work and striving for a positive outcome”.
Conservative councillor Jones said one of his recent accomplishments was the response to flooding near Bassaleg School.
He added: “I went down there to see the flooding and three days later I got a response from council officers and then the gully was being sorted – it was a great feeling.”
Cllr Jones said many people from the Graig ward contact him with concerns, and he encouraged more people to contact him if they had an issue – before going direct to the council.
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