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How to become a councillor

What are you passionate about? Perhaps it is providing opportunities for young people, caring for the environment or supporting local businesses to thrive. Whatever needs changing in your local neighbourhood, you could be just the person to do it by becoming a Councillor.

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What does a Surrey County Councillor do?

Councillors are elected to the local council to represent their local community. Becoming a councillor is both a rewarding and privileged form of public service. You will be in a position to make a difference to the quality of other people's daily lives and prospects.

The county councillor's role and responsibilities include:

  • representing the area for which they are elected
  • decision-making
  • developing and reviewing council policy
  • scrutinising decisions taken by the councillors on the cabinet
  • community leadership and engagement.

Councillors may choose to hold regular drop-in surgeries. Surgeries are a chance for residents to meet you and discuss their problems or concerns. On top of this you will be dealing with letters, emails and phone calls from residents. As a new councillor, you are likely to be on one or more committees. Don't worry if you don't have any experience in this area: once elected, you will be provided with induction and on-going support.

Could I be a councillor?

The easy answer is – almost definitely! As long as you are:

  • British or a citizen of the Commonwealth or European Union.
  • At least 18 years old.
  • Registered to vote in Surrey or have lived, worked or owned property in the county for at least 12 months before an election.

You can't be a councillor if you:

  • Work for the council you want to be a councillor for, or for another local authority in a politically restricted post.
  • Are the subject of a bankruptcy restrictions order or interim order.
  • Have been sentenced to prison for three months or more (including suspended sentences) during the 5 years before election day.
  • Have been convicted of a corrupt or illegal practice by an election court.

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How much time do I need to commit?

How much time you spend on your duties as a councillor is largely up to you and will depend on the particular commitments you take on. The Local Government Associations (LGA) 2013

Census of Councillors found that the average time commitment was around 25 hours per week.

Your role within the council will determine how much time you spend on council duties. For example, Cabinet Members sometimes work longer hours than Backbench Members. You will be expected to attend some council committee meetings – the majority of Surrey County Council meetings take place during the day.

How do I become a councillor?

The answer depends on whether you want to represent a political party or stand as an independent candidate. If you want to represent a political party then the next step would be to get involved with your party locally as soon as possible. This will help you find out more about what the role entails, who you will be working with and what it takes to win elections.

If you are thinking of standing as an independent candidate, you'll need to start building your profile with local people.

The Legal Government Association may also provide more information.

You must also complete a nomination available from your local district or borough council office as soon as the Notice of Election is published – an election timetable will be published several months before the election.

Nomination papers must include:

  • Your full name and address
  • The signature of a proposer and seconder (subscribers) and eight other electors supporting the nomination (assentors). All must be registered and eligible to vote at the election with the division for which the nomination is submitted.

All the necessary documents must be submitted 19 working days before the day of the election. For more information on this contact your local council.

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Do I need to put down a deposit?

A deposit is not needed to stand for local government elections.

Do I need an election agent?

Candidates normally appoint an agent to act on their behalf. Election agents receive all correspondence and notices from the Council, are entitled to attend the issue/opening of postal votes, polling stations and the counting of votes. Agents must make an expenses return to the local authority within the specified period.

As well as election agents, political groups will often appoint counting agents who attend the counting of votes to oversee the counting process.

It is not necessary to appoint an election agent; candidates may act as their own agent.

Are there limits to what I can spend on my election campaign?

Candidates and their agents at local elections must follow certain rules about how much they spend, who they can accept donations from and what they must record after the election. The amount available to spend is calculated prior to each election and will be published by the Electoral Commission nearer the time.

Details of expenses must be submitted to the Authority within 35 days after the election.

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Councillors do not receive a salary. However, they do get a 'members' allowance' in recognition of their time and expenses incurred while on council business.

The Basic Allowance at Surrey County Council is currently £12,442.80 per annum.

In addition, Special Responsibility Allowances are paid to councillor's with significant additional responsibilities, such as chairmanships.

Travelling and Subsistence Allowances are paid for approved duties.

What if I have caring or childcare commitments?

Alongside the basic allowance, expenses for childcare and care of dependents can also be claimed when attending official county duties.

Much of the work of a Councillor, such as responding to resident queries, can be completed at times to suit you. The council also has an agile working policy which allows Members and officers to work flexibly, for example through accessing meetings via Skype.

Will I receive training for the role?

A comprehensive induction programme is provided to all councillors, and training and development opportunities are offered throughout the council term. Councillors also have access to regular 1-1 sessions with a member of the Democratic Services Management Team where they can discuss their training and development needs.

How long will I be a councillor for?

Each election term is four years. The next county council elections will take place in 2021.

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How do I find our more information about becoming a councillor?

If you would like an informal discussion about the role of a councillor please email Democratic Services: democraticservices@surreycc.gov.uk

We will also be hosting two Becoming a Councillor events in early 2020:

Attendance at these events are free but spaces are limited, please book your place via the Eventbrite links above.

Resources you may also find helpful

On Be a councillor website.

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