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The role of a councillor

Who can be a councillor

The easy answer is almost anyone, as long as you are:

  • British, or a citizen of the Commonwealth or the European Union

  • 18 years of age or over

  • registered to vote in the area, or if you have lived, worked or owned property in the council's area for at least 12 months before an election

Who cannot be a councillor

Some people cannot be a councillor because they:

  • work for the council they want to be a councillor for, or work for another council in a politically restricted post

  • are bankrupt or are subject to an interim order

  • have served a prison sentence (including suspended sentences) of three months or more in the five years before the election

  • have been disqualified under any legislation relating to corrupt or illegal practices 

You do not need any previous experience to become a councillor, you just need a genuine commitment to help your local community.

Community advocate

All councillors are expected to represent and champion the interests of the community, businesses and residents in their ward. By representing the views of local people, as a community advocate, you can ensure that local community interests are listened to. 

Other guides about the role of a councillor:

Casework

Councillors can help residents on specific council related issues (casework). As a councillor you will find that much of your time is taken up by contact with local people, in the form of dealing with enquiries or complaints. 

Your role will be to listen, explain council policy and make sure that the policy has been carried out according to the correct procedures. You will get help and support from council officers to deal with enquiries, requests for services and complaints.

Networking and communicating

Councillors act as a communication channel between the council and its citizens. They promote citizens' interests and needs to the council and assist the public to better understand the issues being addressed by local government and the services it provides.

In addition, through a councillor’s democratic mandate, you can build relationships between different groups, organisations and individuals to achieve solutions to local ward and county issues.

Councillors may also be nominated by the council to serve a wide range of organisations such as community groups and charities, or to represent the council on local and regional bodies. 

Decision making as a democratic representative

Councillors will also be responsible for the democratic decision-making at Dorset Council. At full council meetings they agree the council’s annual budget and important policies. In committee meetings, councillors make specific decisions on a range of issues.

Councillors oversee the successful, lawful and effective management of the council’s public resources and delivery of public services in the best interests of the local community and council tax payers.

Councillors are not expected to attend all the committees held by the council, just those that they serve on and any meetings of full council.

The new committee and governance arrangements have been agreed by the Shadow Dorset Council and are detailed in the Dorset Council's constitution.

Committee meetings are open to the public and you are welcome to attend if you would like to see how the current councils' political structures operate.  Find out when committees currently take place.

Committees are normally based on politically proportionality so if you are elected you will discuss within your political group the committees you may wish to serve on.

Independent councillors can form an ‘independent group’ for the purposes of committee seat allocations.

The time commitment

Being a unitary councillor will require a time commitment to address residents’ concerns, reply to communications and to attend meetings.

The time it takes to be a councillor is dependent upon you and the commitments that you choose. 

Other calls on your time may involve:

  • attendance at local meetings
  • reading committee agendas and documents before the meeting
  • attending political group meetings
  • evidence gathering in respect of scrutiny reviews
  • engaging with learning and development opportunities
  • meeting with council officers
  • attending parish or town council meetings

Your residents will look to you for help in dealing with their problems, even if they do not fall strictly within the council’s remit. You are likely to receive a large amount of communications in a variety of formats such as post, telephone calls, social media and emails.

A census of Local Authority Councillors found that councillors spend an average of 25 hours per week on council work.

Employed?

Many councillors across the UK have careers in addition to their role as a councillor. If you are in employment, you will need to discuss the time commitment with your employer. You are entitled to ask for reasonable time off for public service but your employer is not obliged to pay you for it.

Skills and knowledge

Councillors do not need any special or formal qualifications.

It is important that councillors not only represent the communities that they serve, but also have a wide range of backgrounds, skills and experience. The knowledge and experience you have gained through your personal and professional life are important skills to bring to the councillor role. 

The council will provide a learning and development programme for its councillors. This will include key pieces of knowledge that councillors will need including information on how services work, understanding the council’s budget and legal considerations that the council has to comply with. Some training is compulsory, for example, if a councillor serves on a regulatory committee such as planning or licensing. The programme will also include a large range of methods and opportunities to develop your skills.

Following the elections there will be an induction which all councillors should attend.

There is an expectation that councillors will fully engage with the development opportunities offered by the council.

Personal conduct and financial interests

The way in which councillors conduct themselves in office, particularly over matters where they have a financial interest, is governed both by the law and by a code of conduct.

Councillors have to sign a declaration stating they will observe the council’s code of conduct.  They have to declare certain financial and other interests which they may have and can't take part in decisions if they have any related financial interests.

Once elected, councillors will also need to complete a DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) check and register themselves with the Information Commissioner’s Office as a data controller.  More information about this will be available to councillors during their induction after the elections.

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