Over the last few days since the by-election here in Sutton, I’ve been taking the first steps in my new role as district councillor for the village.
As soon as the result was declared at the election count, I signed the declaration of acceptance of office – a legal requirement before a successful candidate can act as a councillor. I was also given a thick file of information, a plastic credit card-type fob to open the council car park barrier and the internal doors at the council offices, a lanyard, and a council car park number and wallet to display it in. It also included a form which I had to sign and return to the council’s Democratic Services staff with the contact details I’m willing to have published on the council’s website, my car registration number so they know I’m a legitimate user of the council car park, and my bank details so that I can be paid my councillor allowance of around £4,000 a year.
On Friday this week I had an introductory meeting with the council Chief Executive. I also met the council’s IT staff about sorting out access to the information held on the council’s internal computer networks; I’ll need to be equipped with the technology to do this from home. I’ve also been offered a computer and printer and Blackberry, but as I already have my own equipment I won’t need to take this up. Unfortunately I wasn’t offered a diagram and a ball of string to help me find my way around the maze that is the council offices in Nutholt Lane, which would probably have been even more useful.
I’ve asked whether there’s a fund to cover the cost of hiring a local room for a regular councillor’s surgery; it wasn’t mentioned in the information file, and I’m waiting to hear back from the council about that. As soon as I’ve got a surgery venue and dates and times set up, I’ll make sure these are advertised.
Another form to fill in is my declaration of financial interests, including my employment, any sponsorship given to my election, any land I own (I don’t, other than my share of the house I live in), organisations to which I belong which aim to influence public opinion, and a number of other questions. This form, which I’ve provided to the council’s Monitoring Officer, is a matter of public record and will be published on the council’s website.
I’ve also begun the process of registering with the Information Commissioner – something which I need to do as I’ll be holding people’s personal data, for example in helping residents with queries and problems with housing or planning or any of the other issues I’m asked to assist with.
My first full council meeting will be on 15 May, at which councillors will be appointed to the new, reduced in number, council committees. There is also a new system of ‘champions’ for particular areas of the council’s activities, and some councillors will be appointed to these.