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Andrew Stephenson: CF is revitalising local government

Andrew_stephenson2 Cllr Andrew Stephenson has been a Member of Macclesfield Borough Council since 2003 and is Chairman of Housing Policy Development

A revolution has been happening in local town halls across the length and breadth of the country.  As Conservatives have made electoral gains, a new generation of young councillors have also been elected.  I am happy to say that serving as a local Councillor is the best political decision I ever made, and I would encourage all ages to put their names forward, especially my own generation.  In fact this was answer I gave to a question at the Conservative Future Working Life Conference in August about which of my political experiences has been the most valuable.

Since my stint as National Deputy Chairman of CF back in 2001-2002, I have been elected as a local Councillor, served as Deputy Chairman (political) of my local Association for two years, been on a target seat campaign team, become an Area Officer for the Party, been elected an Association Chairman, and been accepted onto the approved candidates list (among other roles).   So why would I say serving as a local Councillor has been my most valuable political experience?

Probably the best reason is that Local Government is under-rated. There are over 21,000 elected Councillors serving on 410 local authorities in England and Wales. Local Councillors don’t get the same publicity as MP’s but together they represent over 50 million people and spend around £74 Billion pounds a year on local services.  Back in 2001 when I was heavily involved with CF, there were only about 10 Conservative Councillors under the age of 30, now there are over 200.

Serving as a Councillor is good for three key reasons:

Firstly for Experience and Knowledge - Many young members have thought about standing for Parliament, but very few have thought seriously about standing for council.  But, why not? Representing your local area opens your eyes to lots of issues and gives you the kind of experience that money can’t buy.  From planning and licensing law, affordable housing and regeneration, to street cleaning and council tax. As a Councillor you will soon develop an understanding of how these issues affect different groups and how to reach difficult judgments about the benefits of implementing different polices.

Then there is Professional Training - Regardless of age, newly elected Councillors have a lot to learn and local authorities have become much better at training and supporting new members.  From budget setting, to public speaking, analysing policy and employee relations – all these skills are transferable to people's careers outside politics.

But most importantly, you can make a real difference
- The reason why most of us got involved in politics was to make a difference and as a local Councillor you can make a real difference in your own community. It is incredibly rewarding to know that someone's life has been improved in some small way as a result of something you have done to help them.

With 7 of the Conservative Hammersmith & Fulham Councillors being under 30, and a similar number in Swindon, what more can we do to encourage more younger members to become involved in Local Government?

I have found that there are three basic steps:

Promote the benefits of becoming a Councillor
- We need to demonstrate to members why standing for council is good for our Party and for them personally.  This can be done by featuring CF Councillors at training events, publicising the fact that we have more young Councillors than Labour or the Lib Dems and talking to young professionals about the possibility of standing.

Highlight the Successes of CF Councillors - CF Councillors now hold cabinet posts on local authorities across the country, many controlling multi-million pound budgets and playing a leading role in shaping the communities.  As leading Councillors on some of our biggest local authorities, these members actually have more power than a backbench MP but get little recognition outside their own areas.  We should highlight their successes.

Support our existing CF Councillors and Candidates
- Most of our members who become Councillors will get good support from their local Party, but some will not and CF needs to be able to support them.  We also need to look at ways young Conservative Councillors can gain more influence, both within our own Party and in cross-party organistaions like the Local Government Associations Young Members Forum.


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