Some figures on “casework” by each councillor have been shared this week, with lots of opposition members back slapping each other for the amount of work they do, whilst of course, continuing their joint venture against the Administration, decrying Conservative members for apparently not doing any.
Now don’t get me wrong, there are a number of councillors, cross party who work very hard for Brentwood and for their own residents specifically. We may have different views on what we deem the best thing to do but ultimately, the motivation is generally right and best intended and I wouldn’t criticise efforts unfairly, just because we have different opinions.
There are of course, exceptions to this with some councillors driven by personal grudges against others, leading to twisted and bitter statements and attacks, along with misguided spinning of so called facts but anyway…
Since the figures were shared, I have done some homework of my own as they just didn’t quite ring true in reality…
So, what did I find?
Well, let me start by explaining what “members casework” is about. It is a system set up some time ago to allow councillors to log ward based queries to council officers and track the reply, length of time for a response etc.
There’s no “obligation” to use it, although I think it is a good system and one which personally, I do use for Hutton North matters that are brought to me by residents, as their councillor, or which I see need attending to.
What I don’t use it for is for is to deal with queries or correspondence relating to my role as Council Leader or Group Leader, or administration matters such as setting up meetings or for non Brentwood Borough Council affairs. The same however, cannot be said for others.
So, faced with this fresh round of “backslapping anyone but a Conservative councillor” I asked for a breakdown of the numbers and they’re quite different to those shared earlier in the week.
Knocked off the top spot is William Lloyd as out of his apparent 155 queries, just 34 relate to ward casework matters, according to Council officers. The rest are either due to his roles as Group Leader or admin correspondence. Now I’m not knocking his efforts just pointing out some of the spin given to these “figures” by others… The same can be said across the board. When you look at the breakdown, they actually tell a very different story.
Furthermore, there are indeed other ways in which councillors raise and deal with casework: They can come in to meet with officers, phone in, call the relevant Chairman or myself, discuss with ward colleagues etc. So, these numbers really shouldn’t be taken as reflection on the total work done anyway.
The real test is surely getting the issue resolved for residents, not racking up numbers on some sort of apparent “Councillor of the Year” scoreboard. I know a number of my group and I dare say, councillors from others parties too, call in to the Town Hall and get issues resolved in other ways. In fact, i know they do as I see them! Wards are also very different and some are busier than others in terms of the amount of casework, so councillors’ workloads will vary.
Finally, the role of a councillor involves so much more than just casework, especially for the Conservatives in Adminstration. That isn’t a party political comment, just fact for those in senior positions, running the Council will obviously be tasked with doing much more.
Formulating policy is key and takes up a huge amount of time, being advocates for the Borough and specific local areas, working with Parish Councils and Residents’ Associations, supporting local causes and championing efforts of others in Brentwood and dealing with budget setting and service provision are all part of the role, depending on exactly what the individual’s responsibility is.
As Leader of the Council, I get to see just how much effort goes in by people across the parties and I can tell you that the vast majority are hugely committed to what they do without any distorted figures clouding the perception.
Ultimately, the test should be whether the councillor is effectively dealing with a problem and representing residents, not the where they come on the casework scoreboard.