This case study demonstrates how a team of independent councillors replicated the support offered by more traditional party structures to create a safer environment for local independent councillors.
Councillor safety is an issue for all councillors. However, independent councils may feel particularly vulnerable as they may not have access to the resources that a political party might usually provide. This case study demonstrates how a team of independent councillors replicated the support offered by more traditional party structures to create a safer environment for local independent councillors.
Eastleigh Borough Council is in the South East of England and encompasses industrial, residential, and rural areas. There have been many independent councillors on the council over the years, with five currently serving.
While carrying out their daily activities, you would expect independent councillors to encounter similar situations to other councillors. However, their unaffiliated status can mean that the risks associated with those situations are subtly different. For example, some independents believe they are less at risk of confrontations with the public because they are not associated with wider party policies or decisions – they are only responsible for their own words and actions.
On the other hand, independent councillors do not have the wider support network of political parties. This lack of support structure can lead to an individual approach with little or no peer or other support, leading to a range of additional risks. In this context, independent councils may feel vulnerable and concerned about their welfare, leading to reduced engagement with residents. In addition, independent councillors may put themselves in riskier situations out of necessity and have less resilient personal security methods based on their own experience without access to a wider support network.
Without additional support, independent councillors in Eastleigh Borough Council were at risk of feeling and being unsafe in their role.
The independent councillors on the council created an 'Indy Group' network, which encourages dialogue, support, and collaboration between members.
This network meets regularly and, alongside other items, discusses issues relating to councillor safety. The forum provides the space and opportunity for councillors to share their knowledge of issues, local incidents, workshop solutions to safety issues, and work as a support network to consider health and wellbeing.
The Indy Group has been successful in implementing a number of measures to improve personal safety, including:
- Attending each other's ward surgeries and other events to reduce instances of lone working.
- Providing a lone working service to independent councillors, ensuring schedules and locations are shared and introducing a 'buddy' system where calls are made before and after meetings to reduce risks of lone working.
- Providing a helpful exit to tricky situations: if a situation is escalating, the councillor can send a discreet message requesting a call, and another member of the network will call the councillor, providing a reason to exit the meeting and offering support in the event the emergency services need to be called.
- Providing a valuable support network which is essential to increasing wellbeing and reducing stress caused by independent working.
The Indy Group network has provided independent councillors with a range of benefits. The network is a semi-formal space allowing independent councillors to access and provide peer support in an inclusive environment. This collaborative approach has provided independent councillors with the tools to mitigate the unique risks associated with their role and improve the working environment and wellbeing of colleagues on the council.
How is the new approach being sustained?
The approach is being sustained through collaborative working practices of the councillors themselves, with support from the council. In addition, new independent councillors are proactively offered the opportunity to join the network, ensuring that the experience within the wider independent community is passed on.
Informal networks providing peer and other support outside of traditional political affiliations can significantly benefit independent councillors. These networks can provide a space to share new knowledge and intelligence quickly and efficiently.
In addition, independent councillors identified the importance of informal peer-to-peer support to complement the more formal support provided by the council.