Some people would argue that since all the decisions on the county council are made by a small group of people in the majority party there’s little point in becoming a councillor. That’s a trifle cynical because all councillors can have a massive impact in two ways.
The first is of course by representing their division and all the people who live there. Councillors are the bridge between these people and the apparently remote people in Shire Hall. That can be satisfying because it means that potholes in the roads get filled, it ensures that older people get the support which they need and it results in better bus services.
The second is less well appreciated and is the role that ‘back-benchers’ can play on scrutiny committees. These are cross party committees, often with an opposition chair, which scrutinise what a council does. They hold it to account on the one hand and they initiate independant reviews in areas of concern on the other. And at Cambridgeshire County Council scrutiny really works and Corporate Services Scrutiny (pictured above) is an example of what can be achieved.
Cllr David Jenkins is a member of this committee and says: ‘this is a really effective committee. It is really cross party, seating is generally mixed up, we don’t sit in party blocks and if there’s a vote it’s generally a free one. It’s the one opportunity when most of the councillors can make an impact directly on the way that the council is run’.
‘ To some extent they are like parliamentary select committees and we get to act like ‘real politicians’. We question cabinet members and senior officers and we make recommendations which go to cabinet. We can get cabinet to go back and rethink its decisions. It’s an important part of the ‘checks and balances’ that make up local democracy.’