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How to become a local councillor   

There are 32 local authorities in Scotland with councillors representing local areas within the council. Councillors are locally elected politicians who make important decisions that directly influence the lives of everyone living in the area they represent.

On this page:

What does the role involve?
What will I get out of this?
What will I be expected to give back?
What skills do I need?
How much time should I expect to give?
How do I get involved?

What does the role involve?

Councillors are responsible for ensuring the delivery of many essential services in their local authority, including education and transport. They have three many areas to their work:

Decision making
The local authority has a duty to ensure that certain services are delivered effectively. Councillors are responsible for deciding what needs to be done to make sure that those services happen.

Monitoring
Councillors are responsible for monitoring and evaluating services to ensure that they remain efficient and effective.

Local Involvement
As a locally elected representative, councillors carry out work in their ward (the local area that they represent). This can include:

  • attending meetings of local organisations, such as community councils and tenants’ associations
  • going to meetings of bodies covering the wider community, such as police liaison committees or community health councils
  • running regular surgeries for residents to meet them and discuss issues
  • taking up issues on behalf of members of the public
  • meeting with individual residents in their own homes

    All councillors get a basic expenses allowance of between a few hundred and a few thousand pounds a year. Councillors who take on additional responsibilities receive special allowances.
     

    What will I get out of this?

    Becoming a councillor means you can have a direct influence on the way you and other people in your local area live. Councillors are involved in key local decisions and are in a position to make a positive difference to the community.

    Being a councillor provides an opportunity to take up issues on behalf of the public. This casework is often cited as the most satisfying part of a councillor’s role. It can include championing issues about marginalisation and multiple discrimination, for example relating to people who are LGBT and Disabled or from Black and minority ethnic communities.

     

    What will I be expected to give back?

    Your time and your commitment. Being an effective local councillor is a big commitment. Attending council meetings, getting involved with committees, speaking to local people, there is a lot of responsibility. This role can be challenging, but most councillors would say that it is an extremely rewarding experience.

     

    What skills do I need?

    Although you do not need any specific qualifications to become a councillor, there are some very important skills and qualities that are essential for the role. This includes:

  • ability to make decisions based on the facts and the needs of the community
  • ability to listen and talk to other people easily and constructively
  • a reasonable understanding of figures and finances
  • organisational skills
  • commitment to representing the interests of your community
     

    How much time should I expect to give?

    This can be a time consuming role. Many councillors have jobs in addition to their council role, however, many others work solely as councillors.

     

    How do I get involved?

    Before you decide if this is for you, you should consider if you meet the following criteria. You must:

  • be a British subject, a citizen of the Irish Republic or a citizen of a member state of the European Union
  • be over 21 years of age (although there is no upper age limit)
  • live, own a house or work in the area, but not for the council, for which you seek election

    You can’t become a councillor if:

  • you are an undischarged bankrupt
  • you have been convicted of corrupt or illegal practices or have had a criminal conviction in the past five years which carried a penalty of three months or more imprisonment

    Candidates must be nominated in accordance with the rules governing election of councillors in the relevant area. Your nomination must be proposed, seconded and signed by eight further members of the local electorate. Copies of the relevant forms and rules can be obtained from your local authority. Candidates must also submit their consent for nomination, which should be signed in the presence of a witness who provides their full name and address.

    Most candidates appoint an election agent to manage their campaign, expenditure and produce a public declaration of expenses incurred during the campaign.

    The majority of candidates represent an established political party. There are many advantages to this, including already having a level of natural support amongst the electorate. You would also receive the support of the party when running your campaign and the cost of the election is unlikely to fall on you. However, you don’t have to stand as a candidate for a political party, some councillors stand as “independents”. Independent candidates are often successful, particularly in smaller councils and in rural areas where candidates may be well known by the electorate. If you stand as an independent, it is important to build an effective team who will be able to campaign for you and do a lot of the legwork at election time.

    Useful Contact

    COSLA (Convention of Scottish Local Authorities) is the representative voice of Scottish local government. Their website contains useful information about Scottish local authorities.

    Rosebery House
    9 Haymarket Terrace
    Rosebery House
    Edinburgh
    EH12 5XZ

    tel: 0131 474 9200
    email: enquiries@cosla.gov.uk
    web: www.cosla.gov.uk
     

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