I thought it was worth taking stock after six months of being a city councillor in Bristol. So here’s a blog.
It was a tense count, with three parties believing they had a chance. The real surprise for us was that Labour came second and the Lib Dems third. I I knew we had put the time and effort in and had managed to canvas the entire ward, so I felt OK with the whole thing. Plus, I was knackered, so it’s hard to feel much!
The emotions when I won didn’t fully arrive as I thought they would. It felt natural and I got no huge surge of adrenaline after we were privately told the results. When you get up to make your acceptance speech, it is nervewracking – and it’s especially good as not everyone in the room knows who has won – and it was only when I got up there that it hit me how much emotional energy I’d been investing in it. I’m amazed I got any words out at all.
Thankfully, you get a three-day weekend to recover from the six-month campaign you’ve just fought, and try and get some perspective and energy back to focus on the task ahead.
My first three months were dominated by three small letters: RPS. Gus and I hastily set up some consultation meetings, but I was initially frustrated that such an impactful policy shift could be implemented before conducting any level of community consultation in three of the four areas (Montpelier, St Andrews and St Werburghs). St Pauls had been consulting on the possibility of a scheme as long ago as 2006.
When it comes to it on big issues like this, your opinion as the local councillor doesn’t matter. We were clear about what we thought (see here), and I personally support the principle of a residents’ parking scheme, but you have to keep an open mind and let residents say what they’re thinking as the first priority, otherwise you can’t represent their views.
For me, the most challenging aspect of the job is the quantity of council meetings. This might seem obvious (and I was perfectly prepared for it, having attended Full Council meetings for a year or more before being elected), but it is particularly pronounced when you are on a small political group. I sit on five committees (Development Control Central, Governor Recruitment, CYPS, Elections & Democracy, Overview & Scrutiny Management), not to mention Full Council, Cabinet, Neighbourhood Partnership/Forum/Sub Groups, community groups, one-off meetings and working groups that form. There are days when you can have four two-hour meetings in a row, which if you want to get things done (rather than just talk about getting them done) is a bit frustrating.
At the same time, it’s necessary for building relationships. There has been some good dialogue going on between councillors from different parties and since becoming the Green group whip (I don’t use it – the other Green councillors can vote how they like, and we have voted different ways a few times – although I think we are all agreed that we should never abstain), it’s felt like moving up a gear in terms of civil but frank conversations. I still feel strongly that we need more Green councillors on the Council, as there are many votes that would have gone in a more progressive direction.
Internally, we meet as a group of councillors twice a week – once as a group, and once with the wider party. It must be difficult for the two independent councillors – it really helps having a group of people behind you and pulling in the same direction.
What else…a LOT of emails. You soon learn that there will be a daily battle between being proactive and reactive – the temptation to just do the latter is always there. Many of the emails/phonecalls you get are positive and attempting to change things for the better – from residents, the council, for the city – but there are some that require coordinated action across different agencies for the resident to be well-served or access the right council services. There are people in Ashley who need a lot of support and I try to never turn down a meeting. It’s important to meet residents face-to-face wherever possible or preferable.
This is the space I want to push into in the next six months – meeting more residents and getting more of their ideas for community solutions to some of the problems we face. It’s hard to know 10,000+ people, but you’ve got to try, haven’t you?