Many will have started their political careers as local campaigners, and will know more than most about council budgets. They know about the trade-offs involved and are familiar with a number of the principles that underpin how councils manage their money.
But the scope and complexity of local government finances – in a world where councils plan, manage and deliver services in increasingly different ways – can take even the well-prepared by surprise.
New members are often likely to find themselves on scrutiny committees. It is through involvement in such committees that new councillors will have their first full-on encounter with the inner workings of their authority’s budget. Tomorrow’s cabinet members and leaders will cut their teeth on this work, and it is never too early for new members to begin developing an awareness of the key issues with the support of officers and their fellow members.
That isn’t to say that we only need to give new members the rundown on financial issues because some of them will one day sit on the cabinet.
There is an increasingly vital role for scrutiny councillors to play across the piece. CIPFA and the Centre for Public Scrutiny, along with the support of the Local Government Association will, in the coming weeks, be publishing a comprehensive guide for councillors on these issues.
However, there are particular steps that the newest councillors can take now that will stand them in good stead for the longer term. Such learning will eventually lead to a mastery of all things local government finance.
With that in mind, here are our top five tips for those new to the business of local democracy in town and county halls around the country, now that local election fever is over:
While we’ve pitched these tips for new councillors, they also form the fundamentals for councillors returning to their positions after elections. There is always scope to keep learning, which is why, in the coming weeks, CIPFA and the Centre for Public Scrutiny will launch the Councillor Advisor Service. The aim of this service is not only to improve the financial knowledge of councillors, but to strengthen dialogue and mutual understanding between councillors and officers.
So congratulations to all councillors, both new and returning, following local elections. Take pride in your participation in our democracy, and know that CIPFA stands ready to support you in the service of your communities.
Article first appeared in Local Government Chronicle