Becoming a councillor

If you are passionate about your local community, we need you. Councillors make a huge difference to the quality of life of local people and how local issues are dealt with. We need people from all backgrounds and experiences who reflect the communities they serve to put themselves forward for election.


Are you passionate about what happens in your local area?
Would you like to #makeadifference and help shape the future of your community for the better?

Local councils can only be as effective, relevant and vibrant as the people elected to run it, so we need councillors who are capable, energetic and engaged – from all backgrounds and experiences to reflect their communities.

Being a councillor is highly rewarding. No other role gives you a chance to make such a huge difference to the quality of life of people in your local area and to influence the way issues are dealt with locally.

Why would I want to be a councillor?

There are many reasons why you might like to become a councillor:

  • to make a difference and help shape the future of the local community
  • concern about your local area and wanting to ensure the community gets the right services
  • to represent the views of local people and ensure that community interests are taken into account
  • concern about a specific issue and wanting to do something about it
  • having good ideas for the council and community in a time of scarce resources
  • to contribute your skills
  • to build on other community work through a charity, voluntary group or school governing body
  • to pursue your political ambitions and contribute to your community
  • it can be a career-enhancing activity, allowing you to develop leadership and analytical skills and to obtain practical and managerial work experience.

What do councils do?

Councils run more than 800 services, depending on the type of council. Many are visible to everyone but some you may only know about if you come into direct contact with them.

  • School education and lifelong learning
  • Social services and family support
  • Housing and regeneration
  • Parks, playgrounds and open spaces
  • Tackling disadvantage
  • Building cohesive communities
  • Leisure centres and sports
  • Climate and environment
  • Health and wellbeing
  • Supporting vulnerable residents
  • Refuse, recycling and street cleaning
  • Economic growth, business support and advice
  • Arts, libraries, museums and heritage sites
  • Transport, roads and street lighting
  • Community safety and crime reduction
  • Planning and building regulations

These activities are mainly funded through payments from central government and the collection of council tax, although council tax makes up only about a quarter of a council’s budget.

You may also have a parish or town council providing some additional local community services such as allotments, footpaths, public seating and litter bins.

What do councillors do?

Councillors are elected to represent the local community, so you must either live or work in the council area. Becoming a councillor is both a rewarding and privileged form of public service.

You will be in a position to make a difference to the quality of other people’s daily lives and prospects.

Being an effective councillor requires both commitment and hard work. You will have to balance the needs and interests of residents, the council and (if you represent one) your political party.

Over recent years the role of councils has changed. They now have additional responsibilities, a focus on engaging better with communities, and working in partnership with different organisations.

A councillor’s role and responsibilities include:

  • developing strategies and plans for the area
  • serving the community – helping with problems and ideas
  • representing the community
  • working with others
  • decision making and reviewing decisions
  • talking to the community about their needs and about what the council is doing

Councillors do this by:

  • Talking to constituents by phone, email and letter, social media, home visits, drop-in sessions, street or community meetings, local events.
  • Attending formal council meetings.
  • Managing casework – where people come to you for help with problems.
  • Working on specific council projects with other councillors and council officers.
  • Representing the council on outside organisations such as charities and public bodies.
  • As a member of a political party attending political group meetings, party training and other events.
  • Participating in community meetings and events, such as parish council meetings or meetings about community safety and policing. Whilst councillors don’t have to go to these meetings, it can be a helpful way to find out about what’s happening in the community and also telling the community about what’s happening in the council.
Skills, training and support

Groups made up of people from different backgrounds and with different skills tend to make better decisions. It is important that councils have councillors who not only reflect and represent the communities they serve, but also have a broad range of skills and life experience.

You don’t need any special qualifications. Skills gained through work, raising a family, caring for relatives, volunteering or being active in community or faith groups are highly valuable. However, having or being able to develop the following skills, knowledge and attributes will help you in the role.

  • Communication and influencing skills – these include listening and interpersonal skills, facilitation, public speaking, advocacy, the ability to consider alternative points of view and to negotiate, mediate and resolve conflict.
  • Problem solving, questioning and analytical skills – the ability to get to the bottom of an issue, look at evidence and research, and think of different ways to resolve the issue, including the advantages and disadvantages of each option.
  • Team working – being able to work with other councillors and council officers in meetings and on committees and being able to complete any tasks given to you.
  • Organisational skills – being able to plan and manage your time, keep appointments and meet deadlines.
  • Ability to engage with the local community – being available to provide information and advice to people.
  • Knowledge of the local area – the needs and concerns of communities and awareness of local community groups, events and activities.
  • Technology skills – councils rely increasingly on information and communications technology and councillors are expected to play a full role in this, eg using email.

Don’t worry if you don’t yet feel that you have the skills or confidence to be a councillor, the council and the Local Government Association (LGA) provides support, information and training for new councillors (and ongoing support for councillors of all levels). 

Eligibility

You can become a councillor as long as you are: 

  • British or a citizen of the Commonwealth or European Union
  • At least 18 years old
  • Registered to vote in the area or have lived, worked or owned property there for at least 12 months before an election.

You can’t be a councillor if you:

  • Work for the council you want to be a councillor for, or for another local authority in a political restricted post
  • Are the subject of a bankruptcy restrictions order or interim order
  • Have been sentenced to prison for three months or more (including suspended sentences) during the five years before election day
  • Have been convicted of a corrupt or illegal practice by an election court.

If you are in any doubt about whether you are eligible to stand as a councillor, you should contact the electoral services department at your local council for advice.

Next steps

To become a councillor you have to put yourself forward at local elections and compete with other candidates to gain the most votes.

Below are some of the most important steps to consider.

  1. Find out when the next local government elections are in your area by checking with your local council.
  2. Make sure you are registered on the electoral role with your local council.
  3. If you are interested in independent politics (not a political party), you can get resources and advice from the Local Government Association’s Independent Office and the Independent Campaign CornerAs an independent, you will also need to start working out your views on local issues and services.
  4. To stand for a political party, you’ll need to be a member of the party, get involved locally and go through their selection process before you can be put forward as their candidate for election. You can find out more on each party’s website. This can take up to about a year or more, so please contact your political party as soon as you can. You can also contact the Local Government Association (LGA) political offices
  5. Almost anyone can be a councillor but to check that you are eligible 
  6. Hear from real councillors about what it’s like being a councillor and their tips and inspiration 
  7. Get in touch with a councillor to find out more with an informal chat (or ask us to help)
  8. Watch the Be a Councillor film 
  9. Use our Be a Councillor worksheets to see how you would handle some real situations as a councillor 
  10. Explore, research and keep up to date about your local area, different communities, services, issues and ideas.
  11. Attend council meetings and local events to find out more about local government and your community.
  12. Read the guidance from the Electoral Commission about the processes and forms to fill out to put yourself forward for election. To become nominated as a candidate at a local government election in England, you need to submit a completed set of nomination papers to the place fixed by the Returning Officer by 4pm on the 19th working day before the poll.
  13. Contact the Democratic Services team at your council to get the necessary paperwork, find out the deadlines, and see what help they can give to submit your papers. Find your local council.
  14. You will need to get 10 people (in the ward where you wish to stand) to sign your nomination papers.
  15. Build your local profile, reputation and campaign. Find out more about campaigning from the Local Government Association’s Independent Office, your political party, or the Electoral Commission.