Once elected, a councillor has various roles which he/she is expected to fulfil. These include policy setting, decision-making and representing the local community, in particular the ward or electoral division which elected him or her. The following information has been prepared with particular reference to the arrangements at Surrey Heath.
Policy setting and decision-making
Surrey Heath Borough Council has a Leader and Cabinet (Executive) arrangement. The Leader has responsibility for all Executive functions of the Council. The Leader has informed the Council that she will exercise those functions collectively through the Executive until further notice. Members of the Executive (the Leader of the Council and six other councillors from the majority group) each have responsibility for different areas of the Council's business, called portfolios. The Executive has responsibility for most of the decisions taken by the Council, except those which must be taken by all councillors at a meeting of the full Council (such as setting the Council Tax) and those taken by the regulatory committees, Planning Applications Committee and Licensing Committee (see below). Each portfolio holder is the Council's spokesperson for the functions for which he/she has responsibility and will lead on the review and development of the Council's policy in those areas.
Overview and scrutiny
No decision of the Executive can, however, be implemented unless there has first been the opportunity for the other councillors to question or challenge it. If such a question is raised then a meeting of an overview and scrutiny committee (called a Scrutiny Committee in Surrey Heath) is held. Except for matters of urgency, the original decision cannot be implemented until that committee has made its recommendation to the Executive, unless it has resolved to concur with the original decision. The councillors who are not on the Executive therefore have a scrutiny role, holding the Executive members to account. Members of the overview and scrutiny committees also may develop new policy or review existing policy and make recommendations thereon to the Executive or Council. Both portfolio holders and overview and scrutiny committees monitor the performance of policies and services as a means of testing their effectiveness and appropriateness.
Regulatory functions and ensuring probity
Separate from the executive and overview and scrutiny roles are the roles undertaken by members of the Planning Applications, Licensing and Standards Hearing and Determination Committee. The Planning Applications Committee Opens in a new window and the Licensing Committee Opens in a new window (and its sub-committees) make decisions on planning and licensing applications. The Standards Hearing and Determination Committee Opens in a new window is responsible for promoting standards within the Council and for monitoring the operation of the Code of Conduct. The Committee will hear and determine complaints of alleged breaches of the Codes of Conduct by borough or parish councillors and will receive an annual report from the Monitoring Officer.
The primary responsibility for all councillors is to promote the interests of and take decisions for Surrey Heath as a whole. However, councillors will usually give particular consideration to representing needs and views of residents and businesses in the ward area for which they were elected. Often the motivation for becoming a councillor stems from concerns about the local community and a wish to improve the environment and help the people they represent.
Ward councillors are an important link between residents and businesses and the decision-making structures of the Council and can sometimes be called upon to conciliate between the two parties. Councillors can be asked to promote a particular local issue within the Council and asked to arbitrate in neighbourhood disputes. Some councillors hold 'surgeries' for local issues to be raised. The telephone, address and e-mail address of all councillors are available to the public so that they can be contacted easily. View details of your councillor.
Many councillors also represent the Council on local bodies active within the Borough or the wider area which range from voluntary organisations to statutory bodies.
Most councillors are members of a political party group. Their membership of that party group will have been stated when they stood for election and that party group will generally have assisted in promoting their candidacy. Membership of such a group offers support and assistance from other councillors who will share collective goals and aspirations. Each political group represented on the Council holds group meetings where the approach to different issues being considered by the Council will be discussed. Government guidance is that there should be no such party group discussion for matters being considered by the overview and scrutiny committees (Scrutiny Committees), and those dealing with regulatory functions (Planning Applications and Licensing Committees).
The traditional view of the relationship between councillors and officers is that councillors make policy and officers implement it.