Cllr Joel Davidson is a councillor in Brent and was the Conservative Party London Assembly candidate for Brent and Harrow last year.
In over three years as a councillor in Brent it has been a tremendous honour and privilege to represent local people and serve the people of my home borough.
Whether it’s assisting with community engagement amongst London’s newest communities, (which by now should be a prerequisite for any London Councillor), trying to boost local employment in the light of the impending devolution of business rates, or assisting individuals in the way they are treated by the Council, the job is far-reaching and can be extremely rewarding. I’ve also served on several committees which scrutinise all Council policies, from finance to employment to licensing and everything in between.
However, it has become apparent to me that my efforts in assisting people would be significantly enhanced were we to take the role of a local councillor more seriously by making it a full-time position – with one representative per ward. The fiscal effect of this move would be neutral or even positive for the taxpayer, as the combination of three existing allowances of approximately £10,000 would create a living salary for whoever was able to commit to serving the Council in the role for four years.
Furthermore, the quality of representative would in my experience be greatly enhanced; at present, the three members per ward are very rarely of equal ability or commitment to public service. In Brent, far too many councillors are using the role to supplement their pensions or other income, and the quality of local government suffers greatly as a result. I have no doubt that readers from other London boroughs will be familiar with the surfeit of time-serving Councillors who do very little for their residents apart from showing up at the Full Council meetings, yet happily pocket their allowances every month.
Making Councillors one member per ward would bring more responsibility and accountability to these positions, and I would also support legislation that would commit Councillors to only doing this one job for the duration of their term.
Were we to fully professionalize the role of the local Councillor, we would allow for greater diversity in applicants, and ensure that the patchy and often toothless scrutiny currently provided by scrutiny committees (look at the tragic case of Kensington’s Housing Committee) would be transformed.
There is also an electoral argument here that Conservatives in London should consider; the last General Election showed the critical need for the party to find representatives who are genuinely embedded in their communities and able to represent them; some candidates were local champions, yet far too many did not meet this criteria in London, and faced with a resurgent Labour activist base the results were not good for our party.
Successful London Conservative MPs, like Bob Blackman and Andrew Rosindell, continue to be elected due to the great work they do for their residents; it’s no surprise that both have a strong local government background. By having one member per ward on a full-time basis, we would also produce the ideal breeding ground for successful London Conservative politicians of the future.
I hope that this reform is something that can be considered on a cross-party basis by the Government, as we have seen from recent tragic events that it is in the interests of all Londoners to have far better representation at local level than they are currently receiving.