Working with communities
The problems and issues local people raise with councillors are usually called ‘casework’.
Your casework will come from: online or face to face conversations, social media, letters, telephone calls and emails, surgeries, advice sessions and doorstep calls, campaigning and other political activity. When taking on a case the general steps you will need to consider are:
1. What is the problem?
Establish the facts (not just opinions!) and find out how your constituent wants you to help. Identify whether there is a long history to the problem and who has been approached in the past. Avoid promising to sort out every problem, but always offer a sympathetic ear.
2. Who do I need to speak to?
The issue may be about a council service, about services provided by a partner or a concern about a wider local matter.
If it’s a council matter, a quick face to face discussion, telephone call or email might sort it out. If not, you can use more formal channels. Get into the habit of keeping records of all your communications with the council and residents. Find out if your council provides members with a package or app which will enable you to track the progress of your casework. Some political parties provide these too.
If it’s an issue relating to another service provider, you could contact the organisation directly, or seek advice from a more experienced councillor or officer who may already have contacts.
3. Provide feedback
After you have made initial enquiries, let the resident know what you are doing and keep them up to date with progress and eventual outcomes. They may not know what is going on unless you tell them.
4. Consider the wider issues
Reflect on the issues raised by the casework and let other councillors know. Several similar concerns raised with councillors may suggest a broader service-wide problem, or that an issue needs to be dealt with by a new or revised policy or a scrutiny review. Where you have had a success, let other ward members know in case they face a similar situation.
5. Celebrate your success
Try to publicise your success to residents through leaflets and newsletters – but don’t disclose any personal details.