Councillors are elected by their local community in order to make decisions about local services, agree the local authority budget and set the policy framework as well as appointing chief officers and making constitutional decisions.
The primary role of a councillor is to represent their ward and the people who live in it. All councils have a ‘duty to involve’ the public and must provide opportunities for the public to hold them to account.
Before going ahead and contacting them, it’s important to consider whether your councillor or MP is the right person to contact. MPs are elected to represent their constituents’ interests and raise their concerns in the House of Commons. So if the matter you’re raising highlights an issue with national legislation or that is likely to be affecting others people locally or/and nationally, it may be better to contact your MP in the first instance. Find out more about contacting your MP here. However, if the issue you are concerned about specifically relates to a local service responsibility or policy of your local council – such as permission to manage your road verges or a local green space, problems with antisocial behaviour on a site or getting some street trees planted – then you’ll need to contact your local councillors. If you have a local Parish Council, it may be best to contact them first.
In Sheffield there are also 7 Local Area Committees (LACs) which provide an opportunity for people to get more involved with local decision making, including plans for improvements to the local environment. You can attend your local LAC meeting and provide comments and feedback to potentially influence these plans. Find out more about LACS here.
There are a number of different types of councils in our area, including city, borough and parish/town levels. Each type of council has different responsibilities. A council’s exact remit can vary from area to area. You will need to make sure you are contacting the council that has decision making powers on the issue you want to raise.
Each council has its own website which will explain what they are responsible for and how to contact both council officers (employees) or councillors (elected representatives).
An easy way to find out what council areas you are in is to put your postcode into this website. It will also give you a summary of the services each council is responsible for.
The website of the council you want to contact will give you the names and contact details of every councillor and a lot of other information such as individual responsibilities, which committees they are on, voting records etc.
Each council area is divided into wards, with one or more councillors representing each ward. To find out which ward you are in, you can use https://www.writetothem.com/ (see more on letters and emails below).
This site not only tells you who your councillors are in each council ward but also gives a summary of each council’s responsibilities.
How to contact your councillor
There are a number of ways you could choose to get in touch with your councillor.
- Face-to-face meeting
- Phone call
- Email or letter
- Attending council meetings
- Using social media
Most councillors hold surgeries in their ward, so that members of the public have regular opportunities to speak with them about any council problems or issues that they have. Details of these surgeries can usually be found on your council’s website. Many councillors will also agree to speak to you on the telephone. You can find each councillor’s contact details on their council website.
Whether you have arranged a telephone or face-to-face meeting, plan what you are intending to say and prepare answers to each of the following questions to help you stay focussed:
- Introduce yourself
- What are you going to say? Include some local context if applicable.
- How are you going to convince them to act?
- What are you going to ask them to do?
- Thank them for listening
The meeting itself
- If you are worried about meeting your councillor, particularly for the first time, consider taking a friend for moral support
- Explain the issue to your councillor and ask them for their opinion about it
- Get them to agree to act – make sure you note down anything they say they will do
- Ask them what you can do to help them for example, would they like a briefing on the issue?
- Do they have any follow up questions? If you don’t know the answer, say you will get back to them – we are happy to help you firstname.lastname@example.org
- If you meet face-to-face, you might want to get a photo with your councillor – if you like you could take an action card or placard to hold and make it more eye-catching
After the meeting
It’s always good to send your councillor an email or letter thanking them for meeting you and reminding them of what they’ve agreed to do. You can also include any further information they asked you for.
You could also send a report and photo about your meeting to your local paper, if possible with a quote from both you and from your councillor.
Share a report of your meeting and photo on social media, stating what your councillor has agreed to do and make sure you tag them, the council and Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust.
Email and letters
This site not only tells you who your councillors are in each council, but also gives a summary of each council’s responsibilities and you can also email them directly. Alternatively, you can find each councillor’s contact details on their own council’s website.
Remember that your councillor might receive hundreds of letters and emails. They are more likely to take notice of a short letter that makes the argument clearly and concisely.
- Avoid using acronyms.
- Letters and emails must contain your postal address
- Say who you are and what your concerns are.
- Explain why you are writing and give examples and facts.
- Make your letter or email personal (this will be more effective than using a template provided by an organisation.)
- If possible, tailor the letter or email to their interests, their remit on the Council and/or explain the impact on your locality (for example, if they are on a committee which addresses your issue, explain why your request relates to their committee’s responsibilities)
- Try to give evidence of community support
- Always ask for a response
- Try to limit yourself to one side of A4 paper
Attending council meetings
All council meetings are required to be open to the public, with the exception of when the council decides to close the meeting to the public in certain very limited circumstances. Attending council meetings can be a good way to understand how councils make decisions.
Contact your council for details of council meetings in your area or look on their website.
While council meetings are an opportunity to observe the council at work, they are not usually the place for members of the public to address councillors. People who have been invited to make a submission may speak when directed.
During the coronavirus pandemic, the Government temporarily removed the legal requirement for local authorities to hold public meetings in person. Most council meetings have now returned to in person, but should the situation change, councils do have powers to hold public meetings virtually. Members of the public will be able to access virtual meetings using links provided on the council’s website.
Many councillors are on Twitter and Facebook. Some may not respond to messages on social media, but others will engage with you or at least take note of what you are saying. Lobbying councillors in this way can be useful, as you can ask local friends and colleagues to retweet and share the posts. This demonstrates the strength of feeling that an issue has locally.