Data Protection (GDPR)

From the moment you begin campaigning, whether you are an official candidate for an Election or before, it is likely that people will share information about themselves which you MUST consider to have been shared in trust.

Whether there are laws or regulations that cover your conduct as a councillor once you have been elected, or before when getting yourself elected is just your aim, you must embrace the principles of Data Protection within everything that you do.

This basically means that any personal information you are given or obtain is for your use alone, unless there is a very good reason to share what you know with an appropriate person or authority.

Unless there is a need for immediate intervention because someone is clearly at risk from harm, you should always ask the permission of the person, family, parent or guardian BEFORE communicating information you have been given in trust to anyone else.

If for any reason you need to share information with an appropriate authority you should be confident in the legitimacy of that person’s post or responsibility and keep records – preferably e-mail copies, of everything you share and discuss with them.

ALL personal information you have regarding ANYONE – even their names and contact details must be held securely, and not be accessible to anyone other than yourself. Password and preferably encrypted protection of such documents as a minimum is a must.

Occasionally, you will become aware of a story or a valuable insight into a broader issue for the community, which could be illustrated by information that one resident or their family can give. If you feel this to be the case, you MUST ask the permission of the person and/or family before using their names and any information about them in any material you publish, communication you have with the media, or any reference you make to them in public.

You should also never publish photographs of people in which ANY of them can be identified – no matter how difficult it may seem, without asking their permission first.

In the case of children and young people under the age of 18, or adults who may be considered vulnerable, you MUST obtain the permission of their parent or guardian before taking and publishing their picture.

Do not assume consent to take pictures, just because someone attends a meeting or an event which has been organised by you.

If you are in any doubt about permission DO NOT PUBLISH!

If you have no legitimate reason to keep personal information you should delete or destroy it.

Data Protection is one of those things which it is not only useful to read up about, but to also keep up to date with too. As such, I cannot recommend highly enough that you research Data Protection and the new rules coming into force in 2018, as these will certainly help you once you are elected, and be a good thing to know about in the meantime too. (Take a look at the Information Commissioners Office Website and Google Data Protection and GDPR / General Data Protection Regulations)


By Elections

A normal election or civic cycle for a local authority is a term of 4 years. At the end of each cycle or term, often all, but sometimes a proportion of a council’s total number of seats will be automatically vacated and put back up for election.

Where authorities run more than one cycle, each respective term will last for 4 years. This means that the overall balance of power could effectively be changed each and every time that one of the cycles ends and the seats are put back up for a vote.

As a councillor elected at the beginning of an election cycle, your term before having to seek re-election or step down would normally be 4 years.

When an elected member or councillor decides to step down, leave or resign from their position or seat part way through the cycle, or is unable to continue for some other reason, a by election will be called just for that specific seat.

By elections can happen at any time throughout the election cycle.

The process is very much the same as a full council election in terms of the number of days between the election being called and run, and when nominations have to be in and all other administrative requirements have to be fulfilled.

However, a by election can and often is only run for a single Ward or Division, or for one of the seats within it if it has multiple seats.

It will be run to coincide with other elections if one is scheduled for a similar time, and the local Monitoring Officer does have some discretion over the dates of by elections, whereas scheduled local elections are normally held on the first Thursday in May.

With this level of flexibility, it might be the case that you know a by election is coming for a certain Ward or Division several months before. Alternatively, you could have very little notice at all.

Notices of By Elections are posted in the same way as normal Local Authority Elections, so you will leave yourself very little time to develop a campaign if you wait for the news to reach you in this way.

Local Media and the Council Minutes will be the most reliable sources of news for you to become aware of when a by election is due. But hearing by word of mouth from people involved with the council itself will always help you a lot more when information like this first becomes available.

Multiple Seat Wards & Divisions

Surprising as it may sound, it is sometimes the case that more than one, and perhaps as many as 6 or even more councillors will represent the same electoral area for the same authority in a multiple seat Ward or Division.

Having a multiple number of seats for the very same election can make life interesting for the people who count the votes after Election Day. But it is also one of the ways that serious attempts are made to ensure that there is a balanced number of residents being represented by councillors within different authorities.

You will normally find multiple seat areas is where there are a lot more people living in a geographically small area, which itself cannot be divided into smaller areas for the purpose of an election.

If you are considering running within a multiple seat Ward or Division, don’t be put off by the idea that there is more than one seat and that you are going to run alone.

There are no rules saying that any political party or group has to have a candidate for every seat.

It might actually be of benefit to you, as voters may feel they get the opportunity to support the party or candidate to whom they feel their political allegiances lie, but can also support a local independent at the same time.

Think of it like this, if you have enough people do that with one political party as others do with another, you might get twice the number of votes or either candidate!

Just remember that of you are running alone in an election like this and are out canvassing, it is always a good idea to make people aware that they have the opportunity to vote more than once at the same time, and that they can vote for you and a party candidate too.

Get to know your local Democratic or Electoral Services Department

We all love to hate authorities (until we are part of them that is!).

But whatever the Council you hope to be elected to represent your Ward or Division on, it is essential that you get to know the role of the Democratic Services or Electoral Services Department at your local District Level Authority, which takes responsibility for managing ALL Elections in your area.

Your local District Level Authority or Council, will usually but not always be known as a Borough, District or City Council, unless it is a Unitary Authority, in which case it could be a County or perhaps a Metropolitan Borough Council or something similar.

This will be the same authority which collects the Council Tax for residents in the area where you are planning to become a Candidate.

All the information you need about who to contact, the name of the Monitoring Officer (which is very important if you should experience a problem during your official campaign) and the timetables you will need to keep too will be available on this Council’s website.

The Council’s Website will almost certainly also provide the address where you will need to attend to submit your candidate papers, provide information on how and when you can obtain them, and advise upon how you make an appointment to do so (All of your completed forms will need to be checked to make sure they are ‘valid’).

It is very easy to think of the Council as being in some way against you. But the officers you will meet and interact with as a Candidate may well be the same as the ones you will have lots of dealings with if you successfully become a member. As such, it is in your mutual interests to have a positive and professional relationship.

Whenever the next Election for your Parish, Town, Borough, District, City, Unitary or above, if you are going to run, you must keep up to date with all the information that your local Democratic Services Department makes available.

If the Election is in May, you need to get started

When you have access to all the information about the next local elections in your area, it will be easy to see the election process itself as being between the date that the election is officially called which is usually at the end of March, and Election Day itself, which is usually the first Thursday in May.

This period – between the date when the Election is ‘called’ and the day of the Election is the formal campaign period, when all political and electoral activity has to be carried out under the requirements set down by the Electoral Commission under Electoral Law.

There are very specific rules about what you can do, say and spend during this period, and I will come back to this later.

What you shouldn’t do, is fall in to the trap of thinking the only time that anyone is running for an election, is during the formal election period itself.

Anyone who is going to get elected and be a good councillor and then get re-elected as a good councillor, will understand and respect the fact that everything they do has the potential to have an impact on the result of the next election. However, what a good community representative wont do, is only focus on doing things that they believe will get and keep them elected – as regrettably most of today’s politicians sadly do.

Yes, there is a difference and you should be under no illusion that if you do your job well and always keep the best interests of the people you represent – or aim to represent firmly in mind at all times, you will gain the support of people you didn’t even expect, and even when you don’t achieve the results that you might have hoped, in terms of doing what’s right and maintaining your integrity and the relationship you have with your electors, you will always win.

So whether the next election you can run in is this coming May or is in a year, two years or even three years time, if you are committed to representing local people and doing what’s right, your work needs to begin right now.

The Tiers of Government – An Overview

Tier Pyramid

One of the things we often overlook, is that there is a series of different local, regional and central government authorities to which anyone eligible can be elected as a member, which have responsibility for different parts and areas of government delivery.

Once you begin campaigning, you will quickly understand that many voters do not understand the structure of government and where responsibility for different public services is held. It can be confusing for many reasons and this is why it is important to understand a.) what the authority you wish to be elected to itself does, and b.) what all the other authorities do – as you may quickly find yourself needing to contact them.

The different authorities are known as the Tiers of Government, because they overlap, literally on top of each other in the same geographical area.

It is currently possible for a voter to have a different elected representatives representing them at up to 5 or 6 different levels, depending upon the local structure of government and where the responsibilities for any specific geographical areas lie.

The Tiers of Government are:

  1. Parish & Town Councils
  2. Borough & District Councils (District Level Authorities)
  3. County Councils
  4. Unitary Authorities (an amalgamation of the responsibilities of 1 and/or 2 & 3)
  5. City & Regional Mayors
  6. Parliament (The Westminster Parliament, headed by The Prime Minister)
  7. The European Parliament



Unitary Authorities

A major reconstruction of local authority boundaries created a number of Unitary Authorities in 2009. Government cuts and a drive to share services between authorities may lead to the creation of more in the future

In some areas, the roles and responsibilities of Parish & Town and/or Borough & District and County Councils have been amalgamated and made the responsibility of one local authority for that area. The areas they cover typically correspond with a Borough/District Boundary or a County Boundary, but could mirror the area covered by a multiple of former Borough/District Councils.

Competition for a seat on a Unitary Authority is likely to be higher than fighting for a seat on a Borough/District Council or a County Council Division – especially if ‘unitary status’ has been recently obtained and the way that Councilors are elected to the Authority has been changed.

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County Councils

ClassroomCounty Councils make up the highest tier of local government and provide a range of public services which are typically more strategically focused, as opposed to the more ‘day-to-day’ nature of the work of District Level Authorities. Their area of control usually corresponds with the geographical boundaries of Counties.

Councillors are elected to County Council Seats as Representatives of ‘Divisions’. Divisions typically cover the same area as several District Level Authority Wards, which themselves typically cover a multiple of Parish Wards. (where they exist)

The responsibilities of County Councils include:

  • Education (The Local Education Authority)
  • Adult Education
  • School Buildings & Infrastructure
  • Highways (Minor roads and the major roads not under the control of the Highways Agency)
  • Footpaths and Public Rights of Way
  • Waste Disposal Strategy (Rubbish disposal sites, waste incinerators etc)
  • Social Services
  • Public Transport
  • Education Transport
  • Transport Planning
  • Strategic Planning
  • Emergency Planning
  • Setting the Council’s Annual Budget or ‘Precept’ – the amount every household contributes to the running of the Council, which is paid as part of their ‘Council Tax’

Elections are rarely uncontested and most County Councils are under the control of a Political Group, or made up of Members who have been elected as representatives of well known Political Parties.

Once elected, Members usually have the opportunity to join various committees and contribute in different roles with varying levels of responsibility, depending on the structure of the Council.


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Borough or District Councils (District Level Authorities)

Bin LorryBorough or District Councils provide the administrative hubs of local government. They oversee and manage a wide range of the public services that voters experience on a regular basis and hold key responsibilities for our local environment.

Councillors are elected to Borough or District Council Seats as Representatives of ‘Wards’. Wards typically cover the same area as a multiple of Parish Council Wards (where they exist).

District Level Authorities typically provide Electoral Services for ALL public elections, irrespective of the Tier of Government through their Democratic Services Departments, and it will be this authority that you will need to contact regarding the process and requirements to become a candidate in an election in the location over which the authority presides.

The responsibilities of District Level Authorities include:

  • Planning
  • Building Control
  • Licensing (Sale of Alcohol, Taxi & Private Hire, Scrap Metal Collection, Gambling, Sex Shops, Street Trading)
  • Housing
  • Environmental Health
  • Refuse & Recycling collections
  • Maintaining Parks & Green Spaces
  • Street Cleansing
  • Setting the Council’s Annual Budget or ‘Precept’ – the amount every household contributes to the running of the Council, which is paid as part of their ‘Council Tax’
  • Electoral Services (non-political)
  • Flood Prevention & Emergency Planning
  • The collection and redistribution of Council Tax
  • Community facilities (Sports halls, swimming pools, public toilets, car parks)

District Level Authorities are perceived by many in politics to be where responsibility really begins. Elections are rarely uncontested and most Councils at this level are under the control of a Political Group, or made up of Members who have been elected as representatives of well known Political Parties.

Once elected, Members usually have the opportunity to join various committees and contribute in different roles with varying levels of responsibility, depending on the structure of the Council. Some of these, such as those with Licensing or Planning responsibility are considered apolitical and quasi-judicial in nature.


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Parish & Town Councils

The Parish Council Meetings from the TV Comedy ‘The Vicar of Dibley’ give a warm and fun portrayal of the responsibilities of government at the most accessible level. But the responsibilities are real, and elected councillors can make a big difference on behalf of their local community

Arguably the most accessible form of Government in the UK today are local Parish & Town Councils. They are also the most diverse, in terms of their size, the regularity of when they meet, their budget, and the assets and activities which they have responsibility for.

Typically Parish & Town Councils only exist within rural or countryside Boroughs or Districts and they often hold responsibility for the area around and including a Village, a definable/outlying area of a Town or a group of very small Villages or Hamlets (Parish), or alternatively an area known as a Town which itself is not big enough demographically (have enough people living there or registered to vote) to qualify as a Borough or District in government terms.

Their responsibilities typically include:

  • Community Assets (Which includes Village Halls, Town Halls, Public Toilets, other community buildings, playing fields, parks, green spaces etc, which have belonged to the Parish/Town historically OR have been ‘adopted’ as a result of development)
  • Litter Bins (Paying for their purchase and installation, choosing the site etc)
  • Dog Bins (Paying for their purchase and installation, choosing the site etc)
  • Benches (Paying for their purchase and installation, choosing the site etc)
  • Bus Shelters (Paying for their purchase and installation, choosing the site etc)
  • Cleaning and maintaining Community Assets
  • Setting the Parish or Town ‘Precept’ – the amount every household contributes to the running of the Council, which is paid as part of their ‘Council Tax’
  • Grants
  • Consideration of Planning Applications as a Respondent
  • Representing the community where appropriate
  • Supporting other community stakeholders and local organisations (where appropriate)
  • Other responsibilities which are specific to the Council

It doesn’t look or sound like a lot of responsibility. But for those who really care about the community in which they live and the shared experience they have with others who live and work there too, becoming a member of a local Parish or Town Council can be very rewarding as it is possible to experience the impact of the work and decisions made first hand.

Parish & Town Councils will always have at least one Officer known as a Clerk, who is responsible for administration and communication. The Clerk is person you would normally contact to make enquiries about the work of the Council.

Information regarding the area which the Parish or Town Council covers (its Electoral Constituency), its Parish Wards, the number of Councillors elected for each, the Electoral Cycle (When the Council will next be elected) should be available from the Council itself via its Website, or alternatively the Clerk. Otherwise, the Democratic Services Department of the corresponding District Level Authority should be able to help, or you can find information from the Local Government Boundary Commission here.


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