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FEATURES - WHAT NEXT?

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Now is the time to swear in new councillors, and make them promise to do whatever the government wants ...
Now is the time to swear in new councillors, and make them promise to do whatever the government wants

It is a time of oaths throughout the land. Well at least in those councils who had elections last week. One of the little-known ceremonies of local government is the swearing in of new councillors. Modernised though we all are, this still concerns councillors promising to carry out their duties honestly and fairly and with regard to probity and the principles of public life.

Eventually the oath may change to: 'I promise that I

will carry out the government's wishes in their entirety, and accept, should I deviate from the one true path, that the Audit Commission may hit me over the head with a large stick.'

However, at the moment, the declaration is still about standards in public life and long may this remain.

After being selected, elected and sworn in, what does a councillor do next? Well this depends on three things. Is this the first time they have been a councillor? Which ticket did they stand on? Has the council changed political control?

For many councillors, the election will be a small blip in the normal workings of the authority. The council will not have changed control and it will be business as usual. Individuals will find themselves either back in control of a familiar machine or once again on the backbenches or in opposition. For many officers in such councils, the election will have been irrelevant and quite possibly invisible. It is as though the councillors have said: 'I am just popping out for a bit of democratic validation, but I'll be back in a minute.' Few noticed their short absence.

For others it is very different. The council has changed control or, joy of joys, now has no overall control. This should be springtime for the councillor. However new she or he might be, or whether their group leader had previously ignored them as being irrelevant or stupid, each and every councillor's vote now counts. New alliances can be forged and ancient feuds settled. This is a time for good officers to earn their corn, as services need to be delivered while the politics are being resolved.

A third type of council is rare, but does exist. This is where one party has failed spectacularly and ceded control to others, against everyone's expectations. In such councils, large numbers of new councillors find positions of authority thrust on them from day one. Again, good officers earn their pay by helping new councillors find their roles. Often they must cope with the rump of the former majority refusing to believe what the 'ungrateful' electorate has done to them.

Within all of the above can sit a lonely figure. This is the paper candidate - or PC - for whom it all went wrong. The PC is the one who was bullied to stand for an 'unwinnable' seat, by a political party wanting to field a full slate of candidates. The PC was assured that becoming a councillor was impossible and so reluctantly agreed to stand. Unfortunately, the electorate had not been let in on this little scheme and duly elected the dumbfounded PC. After oath swearing, the PC now faces four years of unexpected servitude.

So here we have all sorts of councillors: for some business as usual, for others new realities. It is always interesting to see what happens next.

David Clark

Director general, SOLACE

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