A good starting point for groups looking to start to develop relationships with their local authorities* would be to ‘Understand how your Council works’ from gov.uk.
* We use the term ‘local authorities’ to include all types of local government from across the whole of the UK e.g. county councils, districts, boroughs or city councils, unitary councils, London boroughs, combined authorities, metropolitan boroughs as well as parish and town councils.
Identifying and Contacting Your Councillors
You can find your councillors (and MP/ MEPs) by typing in your postcode at: https://www.writetothem.com/ or by visiting your council’s website. Search for your council here: https://www.gov.uk/find-your-local-council.
How do local authorities work?
- Local government is the collective term for local authorities (who are also referred to as councils). In the UK, there are several types of local local authorities. Each of these has responsibility for a particular range of local services.
- Local councils are made up of councillors (members) who are voted for by the public in local elections and represent the residents of a ward, and paid council staff (officers) who deliver services. Each councillor has to stand for re-election every four years.
- Councils provide a wide range of services, either directly through their staff or by commissioning (buying) services from outside organisations. They also have responsibility for the economic, social and environmental ’wellbeing’ of their area.
- Councillors from different political parties make up the full council. The council is divided into individual groups called committees, which have responsibility for particular services such as education or planning. These recommend decisions to be agreed by the full council.
- The council is steered by the council leader and cabinet, or the elected mayor and their deputy mayors.
What does a local councillor do?
- They hold regular surgeries (drop-ins) where they listen to the problems of local residents.
- Vote in council meetings and scrutinise the spending of local budgets.
- If they are an executive member of the council, they are responsible for a particular department (e.g. Children’s Services).
- Councillor are also a member of a political party (e.g. the Labour Group) (although some might be independent).
What mechanisms within councils can be used to influence decision making and inspire practical action?
- You can write to your councillor to request a meeting or go to their constituency surgery. Research your councillors’ interests and what positions they hold in the council by visiting your council’s website.
- You can attend most council meetings (although usually you won’t be able to speak at them unless this has been pre-arranged). You can ask to brief a committee (e.g. Communities Scrutiny Committee) or arrange a deputation to the council executive or a relevant committee.
- You can invite the ceremonial mayor, elected mayor, council leader or a relevant member of the executive to speak at an event or visit your group.
- You can ask the council to pass a Motion in favour of City of Sanctuary as starting point for working with them in becoming a welcoming place of safety for all.
- You can use consultations, strategy reviews and equality impact assessments to highlight needs and call for action (e.g. Homelessness Strategy, Joint Strategic Needs Assessment).
Tips on effectively working with councils and building relationships with councillors
- Be clear about why you’re engaging with them and what you want them to do.
- Use a combination of real stories, reliable evidence and good analysis.
- Link City of Sanctuary to one of their existing priorities or areas of interest.
- Clearly communicate the benefits of your proposal (e.g. increased community cohesion, reduced risk to community safety).
- Come prepared to answer direct questions, such as: How much will it cost? Who else supports this proposal? What do you want them to do?
- Analyse where the power lies – aim for cross-party support if appropriate, and use insider networks
- Make your engagement with the council part of a wider campaign to become a welcoming place of safety, ensuring there’s pressure from several angles.
More information about local government structures
Who holds power?
The power holders at a local level depend on what type of council structure you have, and whether your town/ city is part of a wider city region or combined authority. Your local council website should have a section called ‘Council and democracy’ or similar, explaining more. Key powerholders include those who are elected and those who are unelected.
Elected power holders (all are elected by the public to become councillors, but may then be elected by non-public vote to take up a particular office such as council leader or executive member)
- Council leader
- Cabinet Members/ Executive Members
- Ceremonial Mayor
- Metro Mayor
Non-elected power holders
- Chief Executive Officer (this only applies in certain structures)
- Council officers
Other regional power holders
- Regional Strategic Migration Partnerships (funded by the Home Office and co-ordinated by a local council on behalf of a region. They oversee COMPASS contract; though limited powers to raise concerns or enforce contract compliance. Some RSMPs play a signposting and information sharing role and act as a bridge between statutory sector and refugee support organisations)
- Health and Wellbeing Boards
- Safeguarding Boards
- Plus many other Boards and groups within councils, and encompassing wider stakeholders (e.g. police, health services) that responsible for strategies/services in the areas of homelessness, community safety, equality, children etc.
Strategic Migration Partnerships
There are twelve UK partnerships funded by the Home Office. These partnerships are tiered regional networks which works with partners to develop and support local migrant worker and asylum seekers and refugee networks, encompassing grass roots organisations and a network of multi-agency fora and specialist and task groups.
The Partnerships receive an annual grant from the Home Office for the operation of the enabling function as described above. Payment of the grant is dependent on the achievement of key performance indicators agreed between the Strategic Migration Partnerships and the Home Office.
N.B. We are committed to developing a resource pack to support groups to be able to work effectively with their local authority. If you would like to contribute to the resource development please contact [email protected]