At Leeds City Council, the Deputy Leader has taken on the role of 'Councillor Safety Champion' to ensure that councillor safety remains at the top of the agenda.
Being a councillor is challenging and rewarding. Councillors represent their community across all walks of life and often carry out activities in unfamiliar and sometimes risky environments.
Councillor safety is vitally important in this context, but it can easily be overlooked or lost in the context of multiple priorities and a fast-paced environment. At Leeds City Council, the Deputy Leader has taken on the role of 'Councillor Safety Champion' to ensure that councillor safety remains at the top of the agenda.
Leeds is a diverse, vibrant and growing area. The City Council is a metropolitan district council with the second largest population of any council in the United Kingdom (approximately 800,000 inhabitants). This provides a fast-moving environment with various issues and challenges for local councillors to grapple with.
Experienced councillors are generally confident within their community role, and sometimes safety considerations can often be overlooked or deprioritised against open community engagement. Prioritising safety training and information relating to councillor safety can be a challenge.
Leeds City Council recognised that not all councillors were prioritising safety and established a 'Councillor Safety Champion' role, which the Deputy Leader of the council filled, to provide leadership at a senior level.
The Champion's role is to establish and maintain strong strategic links with relevant emergency services leading to the implementation of stronger safety processes. The Champion also provides a very effective point of escalation for councillors if an incident has occurred. Finally, the Champion is the figurehead for the regular bulletins and updates produced by council officers on councillor safety; this confers importance on the message and helps councillors prioritise the important.
Before this arrangement, councillor safety was an add-on or a 'nice to have' rather than an essential component of the councillor role. Creating the role of Councillor Safety Champion has raised the profile of councillor safety issues for officers and councillors and created better two-way engagement. As a result, councillors are more informed about risks and mitigations; they have a conduit to feed intelligence back to relevant officers, and they know their safety is being considered seriously by the council.
The engagement and receipt of key training information and guidance have increased councillors' proactivity in taking preventative measures to work more safely in the local community.
How is the new approach being sustained?
The approach is supported at the most senior level within the council and is given the resources required to continue regular communication and engagements. The Council Safety Champion ensures councillor safety remains a high priority and provides a conduit for strategic engagement with local emergency services.
Leeds City Council has identified how important strong leadership is in driving forward a priority. Regular communication can help improve a safety provision, which can help councillors represent their communities more safely. However, it is the senior leadership promoting this agenda that encourages councillors to prioritise their own safety and take on board the information and advice provided to them.