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Leeds City Council: Venue risk assessments to support councillor safety

It is important that councillors feel equipped to manage occasionally aggressive encounters with residents, including taking preventative steps to limit the risk of serious consequences. Leeds City Council helped councillors risk assess venues to ensure that they were safe and find appropriate alternatives if necessary.

Councillors represent their local communities and spend much time engaging with their residents through ward surgeries and other community and council events. Many people can attend these events and may want to discuss emotionally-charged or controversial topics with their local representatives. Sometimes these can lead to challenging conversations and occasionally aggressive encounters; it is important that councillors feel equipped to manage this, including taking preventative steps to limit the risk of serious consequences.

Leeds City Council helped councillors risk assess venues to ensure that they were safe and find appropriate alternatives if necessary.

The challenge:

Leeds City Council is a metropolitan district council with a diverse, vibrant, and engaged community. The City of Leeds is predicted to have economic growth of 25 per cent over the next ten years. This growth will bring significant change to the local areas and will likely stimulate a range of opinions from residents.

Change can be difficult to manage, and councils will want to engage residents to ensure that they have a say in the plans for the future of their area. Councillors have their role to play in this and anticipated that these conversations might be heated on occasion and play out at ward surgeries and other council events.

Leeds City Council provides venues to councillors and has a vast and varied property portfolio. However, identifying safe premises to hold public events or surgeries, often in the evening, can be difficult. Accessibility for all members of the community is also a key consideration.

The design and layout of the premises can contribute to the safety of everyone present: preventing a cramped environment, ensuring good lighting, safe access to arrive and leave the venue, and a comfortable environment can help prevent tensions from running high. However, although the council provides the venues, surgeries are administrated by the councillors, and so they must have the necessary skills and understanding to use the venue safely.

The solution:

The council's Health and Safety Team supports councillors to assess the suitability of the venues they use for ward surgeries. This process involves a premises risk assessment using the skills and competencies of officers the council already has at their disposal.

The Risk Assessment Team visits each location and considers:

  • the entrances and exits
  • premises security features
  • preferred seating arrangements and set up
  • comfort settings, including heating/cooling and lighting levels
  • equipment available to councillors (chairs, tables and so on)
  • parking and walkways
  • phone signal.

The risk assessment provides valuable information on safely conducting public meetings in that specific environment, even including a suggested seating plan and guidance on what equipment to use. In addition, the reports are available to councillors, allowing them to make an informed decision about where and how they hold their surgeries.

The impact:

This proactive approach helps councillors make informed decisions about how to carry out safer ward surgeries and feel assured that they are following the advice of skilled professionals. Councillors, therefore, feel more confident in meeting with members of the public and discussing challenging topics. Following the advice provided, councillors can respond appropriately to incidents, including leaving the environment safely.

How is the new approach being sustained?

The approach is being sustained by the support of the council's Health and Safety Team, which has the resources and expertise available to provide this expert support. The process has been written into the approved procedure (see the 'Elected Member Safety Guidance and Support' document), which shares good practice and measures to enable councillors to carry out their activities safely.

Lessons learned:

Leeds City Council has identified how proactive measures can contribute to safer working practices for councillors. This proactive approach can help prevent more serious incidents from occurring by ensuring the most appropriate venue provision is utilised.