Frequently asked questions and myth busting
What are councillors?
- Councillors are elected to represent the local community, so they must either live or work in the Council area.
- It is a rewarding form of public service that makes a difference to the quality of life of people in the local community.
- See some case studies from councillors here: Local Government Association - case studies
Why would I want to be a councillor?
- To use your skills, knowledge and experience to make a difference and help shape the future of the local community.
- To represent the views of local people.
- To pursue political ambitions.
- To gain new skills, experience, knowledge and confidence.
What do I need to do to become a councillor?
- Candidates must decide whether they want to stand for election as a member of a political party or as an independent councillor.
- Political parties in the area will be looking for people to represent them. The website of each political party will have more information for those wishing to be affiliated with them.
- Candidates that do not wish to represent a political party can stand for election as an independent candidate.
- Get officially nominated.
- Whether candidates have been selected by a political party or are standing as an independent candidate, they must ensure that they have been officially nominated.
- Nomination papers must be signed by two people (all who are registered electors in the local area) and will be available online at Voting and elections
- Candidates must give their consent in writing that they wish to stand for election.
- The nominations to stand for election will start on Monday 27 March 2023 and all nomination documents must be submitted by 4pm on Tuesday 4 April 2023.
- Guidance on standing for election can be found on the Electoral Commission website: Electoral Commission - Local elections in England
What roles and responsibilities do councillors have?
- represent the community and talk to constituents about their views and needs
- work with other councillors to develop policies, strategies and plans for the area
- attend formal council meetings and events
- review and make decisions on issues in the local area
- represent the council on external organisations such as charities
- discuss council projects with the community.
How much time is involved in being a councillor?
- The amount of time depends on how involved councillors are. Before you consider becoming a councillor you may want to discuss it with your family and friends to decide how to balance everything. You will need their support as you’ll have to spend some of your spare time on council business.
- There will be meetings and events that councillors will need to attend as part of their role.
- Councillors will also spend time with their constituents to represent the council.
Who can be a councillor?
Candidates must be:
- at least 18 years old
- British or a citizen of the Commonwealth or European Union
- registered to vote in the council area or have lived, worked or owned property there for at least 12 months before an election.
Who can’t be a councillor?
Candidates cannot be a councillor if:
- they work for the council that they wish to be a councillor for
- they work for another local authority in a politically restricted post
- they are the subject of bankruptcy restrictions or interim order
- they have been sentenced to prison for three months or more (including suspended sentences) in the five years before the election
- they have been convicted of a corrupt or illegal practice by an election court.
Can I be a councillor if I am disabled?
- The same criteria for being a councillor applies if you are disabled.
- Although the council is not able to provide support to help canvass potential voters, you may be able to seek local help.
- Councillors will be assisted by the council, upon their election, to make sure any barriers are overcome, and they are able to contribute and be as involved as much as they wish.
- As being a councillor is not a full-time job, it should not affect any benefits they receive. However, candidates should check with the Department of Work and Pensions if this applies to them.
- Read how disabled people got involved with being a councillor:
What skills do I need to have?
Candidates do not need to have any specific qualifications to become a councillor. Those wishing to be a councillor should consider if they have the following skill set:
- Communication skills – for example, confident at public speaking, the ability to consider alternative views, good interpersonal skills, active listening, engage with the local community, negotiate, mediate and resolve conflict.
- Problem solving skills – for example, being able to think of different ways to resolve an issue, analytical thinking, reading and researching.
- Team work – for example, working well with other councillors, the public and council officers.
- Organisation skills – for example, planning and managing time well, meeting deadlines, attending appointments.
- Knowledge of local areas – for example, understanding the needs and concerns of the local community, awareness of local groups and events.
- Using technology – for example, to communicate and relay information by email.
Do I need to have a political preference?
- Candidates can decide whether they want to stand for election as a member of a political party or as an independent candidate.
- Candidates that wish to represent a political party will need an agreement to state that they have been selected to represent that particular group in the elections.
Will it cost anything to stand for election?
- Costs incurred by a candidate during the election is at the personal expense of the individual or political party they represent. There is a limit on how much can be spent on a campaign and this amount will be confirmed by the Electoral Services Team at the council.
- The council cannot, and does not, refund any costs incurred as part of the election campaign.
Are councillors paid for the work they do?
- Councillors do not have a salary but do receive an allowance, plus travel and some expenses. Councillors that have additional responsibilities (for example, cabinet members or committee chairs) are paid extra allowances.
- Please note that that allowances may affect benefits a councillor receive, and are taxable. Councillors are advised to contact the agency that provides the benefits for more information.
- See the West Suffolk Council Members’ Allowances Scheme: Councillors' allowances
Will I have to attend council meetings?
- While much of the day-to-day work of a councillor takes place outside of formal meetings, you will be required to attend some council meetings to:
- represent community views, needs and ideas
- help create strategies, policies and plans
- make decisions and/or review decisions taken.
Are council meetings in person?
- Some meetings and briefings can now be done remotely with virtual technology although formal council meetings are still required by law to take place in person. The majority of meetings are held at our offices in Bury St Edmunds.
- Councillors are not required to attend all meetings of the council and its committees, but there is a legal requirement to attend a minimum of one formal meeting every six months.
Can I get time off work?
- Many councillors fit their council work around their job, studying, caring responsibilities and other volunteer work.
- The Employment Rights Act 1996 requires employers to allow councillors a reasonable amount of time off for their council work. Candidates are advised to discuss details with their employer.
- Some meetings are held in the evening to accommodate councillors who work during the day.
Will I get support?
- Once elected, councillors undertake a carefully planned induction programme, with further training and development available throughout their time as a councillor.
Are there rules to follow?
- Everyone expects good standards of behaviour from those they elect to represent them. To support that, West Suffolk Council and all towns and parishes have adopted a code of conduct to govern the way we expect councillors to behave. More information can be found on: Councillors' conduct
- The council also has its own constitution which sets out how decisions are made. More information can be found on: Council constitution
What does the council do?
- There are a variety of different types of councils in England and together they form what is known as local government. In West Suffolk there are:
- a county council – Suffolk County Council
- a district council – West Suffolk Council
- 85 parish councils
- West Suffolk Council is a district council and is responsible for:
- culture and community development
- economic development
- licensing and environmental health
- planning and building control
- running elections
- waste and recycling
- West Suffolk’s leisure services are run by Abbeycroft on behalf of the council.
- Council Tax and benefits are administered on behalf of West Suffolk by Anglia Revenues Partnership (ARP).
How long will I be a councillor for?
- Every councillor is elected for a four-year term. The last election took place on Thursday 4 May 2023 and the council term will be until Tuesday 11 May 2027.