On My 2nd at the last local elections, I was voted in as an East Riding of Yorkshire Councillor representing St Mary’s Ward and as a Beverley Town Councillor representing St Mary’s Ward East. My previous experience of either council was paying my council tax precept or enjoying the events or using the services they provide. So, what has my first few months as a representative of the people been like? Read on as I share some thoughts……
Let’s begin with the East Riding of Yorkshire Council – affectionately known as ERYC. Just walking through the front door for the first time without having to sign in at the front desk was awesome. But when I discovered I had my own seat in the Council Chamber with my name on the microphone on the shelf in front, I felt quite over-awed at the solemnity and the fact that people had put such faith in me. That’s when the enormity of the task really hit me – I now had the ability to make a real difference to the community I live in.
The East Riding of Yorkshire Council covers 3 parliamentary constituencies – East Yorkshire; Haltemprice & Howden and Beverley & Holderness. Each of those constituencies is divided into a number of ‘wards’ – there are 26 wards in total within ERYC, each ward having between 1 and 3 elected councillors to represent it. The total number of councillors elected to ERYC totals 67. Most of them represent their ward as members of a political party: 48 of the current councillors are Conservatives, there are 9 Liberal Democrats and 2 Yorkshire Party. The remaining 8 councillors stood as Independents, 7 of whom have joined together as an Independent Group.
Because the Conservatives are the majority party, they elect the Leader and Portfolio Holders from amongst their midst. They also elect the Chairs and Deputy Chairs of committees – this is not a criticism as the way in which appointments to committees are made depends on the numbers and the Chair and Deputy are therefore from the largest political group. Parliament works the same way; you would expect the Prime Minister to be elected from within the party with the largest number of MPs and for that PM to appoint his Cabinet and other members of the Government from his fellow MPs. However, the smaller groups have the opportunity to nominate members to sit on committees, working parties and review panels. As these meetings are held for the benefit of the constituents of the county – in effect to hold the (unelected) officers of the council to account – a good Chair will ensure political allegiances do not affect discussions. In my limited experience, the Chairmen I work with are all excellent and the committees I attend are valuable, challenging where necessary and reassuring where there has been positive change.
Of course, politics do come into play, especially at Full Council which is held in the aforementioned Council Chamber. Full Council is the ERYC equivalent of Prime Minister’s Questions. More about the fun and games – as well as the serious side – of Full Council next time!