Four months in, Councillor Tobin Byers of Merton Council is beginning to get to grips with life in local government and all that comes with it. Here are his musings on his experience so far…
After months of relentless campaigning, my first weekend as a councillor was notable as I didn’t knock on a single door. Polling day had been grinding (the count extended into the early hours, with the final ward declared at 7am and mine only marginally earlier), yet after a few hours’ sleep on Friday night it was straight into the council chamber for inductions, photos and the first of what is now a small forest of paperwork.
I’ve received invitations to everything from exhibitions and theatre productions to charity events and AGMs of local groups. I even received an email inviting me to take part in a reality show charting the progress of elected members seeking to lose weight, though I’m assured others received that too and I wasn’t singled out! The committee material too can be hefty; the agenda for my first General Purposes Committee ran to 195 pages, with a supplementary agenda of a modest 99.
Meetings seem never ending. And sometimes, however much reading you do, you’re still left feeling unprepared. One Saturday morning I’d gone to see a resident to talk about parking, only to arrive at her front door to find a small queue forming to get into her living room – she’d invited all of her neighbours as well.
But when you do manage to get something sorted, however small it may be, it is a hugely satisfactory feeling. Shortly after I was elected I went to visit a gentleman who wanted a tree trimmed. It was one of my more straightforward queries (on my third morning as a councillor I’d taken a call from a lady about to be evicted, a stark introduction to casework). And yet, to this gentleman, it made all the difference. He wrote to me after my visit and said: “It bodes very well… when a councillor who has so much on his plate can find the time to inspect a minor problem. I will shout this from the roof top and make doubly sure my neighbours know that Labour always keep their word.”
Receiving that makes all of the paperwork, committees and meetings more than worthwhile.
By Councillor Tobin Byers, Merton Council.