CHRIS MANN: A Cambridgeshire council is launching a major initiative to encourage more people to stand for election. South Cambridgeshire District Council is running a Be a Councillor event, ahead of elections in May. To tell us more, the Council’s Chief Executive Jean Hunter joins me now in the studio. Good evening to you.
JEAN HUNTER: Good evening,
CHRIS MANN: A very warm welcome. Why do you need to appeal for councillors?
JEAN HUNTER: We’re keen to encourage as many people as possible from a variety of different backgrounds to think about making a difference to their local communities.
CHRIS MANN: And becoming a councillor, is that an easy process?
JEAN HUNTER: It’s relatively easy. We will provide support and help for anyone who is interested. It might sound a bit daunting, but we’ve got councillors from all walks of life, and we do a lot to help them to do the job well.
CHRIS MANN: One almost thinks of councillors as coming from political parties of course, as many do. But I know on your council you’ve got 32 Conservatives, 18 Liberal Democrats, you’ve got 1 Labour, and you’ve got 6 Independents. And they could make a difference.
JEAN HUNTER: Absolutely. That’s right. All of our Members can make a difference, make a real difference in their local communities, which I think is particularly important in the current climate.
CHRIS MANN: So what kind of things will you be explaining to people, when they come along to your meetings?
JEAN HUNTER: Well some of our councillors will be there, and will be talking about why they became a councillor, and what they enjoy about it, how they’ve made a difference. But we will also be explaining something about what commitments people have to make, what paperwork they have to do, and what training and help we will give them.
CHRIS MANN: Now you’re a Chief Executive. Of course you run the Council. You’re the Executive Officer, and you’ve worked around the country, in other councils. So you’ve worked with lots of councillors. What makes a good one Jean?
JEAN HUNTER: I think someone who is passionate about their local community and wanting to make a difference. I think someone who’s good at listening, because it’s very easy for people with the loudest voices to be heard, and it’s really important to make sure that we listen to everybody. And I think all of our councillors on South Cambs. will do what’s right for their local community.
CHRIS MANN: Sometimes people get elected just because of one issue, don’t they? They feel very strongly, whether it’s parking, or whether it’s planning, or something that they really want to get their teeth into.
JEAN HUNTER: That’s absolutely right. A lot of our councillors start off by getting involved in a very local very controversial issue. But we make sure once they become councillors we provide the training and the help for them to understand all of the issues facing South Cambs.
CHRIS MANN: And what do councillors represent? What is a ward? Is it one village, or is it one area?
JEAN HUNTER: It varies considerably. But it’s usually several villages. So we have 57 councillors representing over 100 villages in South Cambridgeshire.
CHRIS MANN: And if you had to estimate how many hours they had to give up a week, or a month, what would it be?
JEAN HUNTER: It varies quite considerably, because obviously we have people who work, we have people who don’t have a lot of time. So it’s difficult to put a time on it. I think obviously attending our Full Councils and working with local constituents to help them with their problems is the minimum amount of time.
CHRIS MANN: And do they get paid?
JEAN HUNTER: They get a small basic allowance as compensation for the time they give up. But it’s not payment None of our councillors do this for money. And in fact South Cambs. has frozen its basic allowance for the last four years.
CHRIS MANN: And they serve for four years at a time.
JEAN HUNT: That’s right, Yes.
CHRIS MANN: Do they get pleasure out of it? You work closely with them. Do they enjoy it?
JEAN HUNT: (LAUGHS) I think they do. I think it’s not an easy job at times, and I think we have some really tough decisions to make, but that’s why it’s so important for us to get some really good quality councillors who can help us to do the right thing.
CHRIS MANN: And the point it’s important that councillors are just the ordinary people, aren’t they?
JEAN HUNTER: Absolutely right. We have people who work, people who don’t work, people who have young families. It’s possible for anyone who wants to make a difference.
CHRIS MANN: ever thought about it yourself?
JEAN HUNTER: I have actually, yes. But I’m not allowed to any more now.
CHRIS MANN: What’s the one thing you would change?
JEAN HUNTER: Ooh. That’s a difficult one. (LAUGHS)
CHRIS MANN: You can’t say that now.
JEAN HUNTER: I’ll pass on that.
CHRIS MANN: You have to stay on the fence now.
JEAN HUNTER: Absolutely.
CHRIS MANN: OK. So if people want to get involved, just remind us how they do that.
JEAN HUNTER: Well they can come along to our workshop on Monday 13th February (2012) at 6 o’clock in Cambourne. If they can’t make that, we’ll make other arrangements for them. But they really need to contact our Democratic Services team at the Council.
CHRIS MANN: OK. And the website is www.scambs.gov.uk
JEAN HUNTER: That’s right. And if we’ve got any young people out there who are listening, who are perhaps not old enough to be councillors, we are launching our Youth Council this year, and young people can find out about that on Facebook. So we’d really like them to get involved with us as well.
CHRIS MANN: Jean Hunt. Thank you so much for joining us. She’s the Chief Executive of South Cambs District Council.
17:54 Tuesday 10th January 2012
Drive BBC Radio Cambridgeshire