Lets celebrate our councillors

As Cambridge City goes to the polls, with one third of the 42 councillors standing for election, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on the role of councillors and the community, in helping with climate and the environment.

As the Local Government Association explains to prospective councillors. “Being a councillor is all about giving back to your community by bringing your energy, passion, and hard-working attitude …. For example, you could be representing the views of local people to ensure the community gets the right services, supporting a resident with an issue, or helping to shape the community by driving new ideas.

Becoming a councillor is not about getting rich! For example, in 2024/5 an ordinary Cambridge city councillor will get an annual allowance of £6,690 but will typically spend about 22hrs a week on council business. This is just under £6/hour, so very significantly less than the minimum wage.

In my experience, the debate in Cambridge City Council meetings is usually considered and thoughtful. Although at times individuals may get emotional, in general it’s a grown up discussion and very different to the childish baying mob that one sees in debates in Parliament.

There are different views of course, because some of the issues are genuinely tricky. For example, should we invest in building more good quality council homes, and upgrading the energy efficiency of existing council homes? Or should we spend less, and minimise bills for tenants? We are pleased that so far, the decision seems to have been largely in support of the investment, which is helping those on lowest incomes reduce their energy bills, while decarbonising Cambridge

Our elected councillors are performing a difficult role in the face of savage cuts from central government. For example, in 2010/11 central government funding was around 2/3rds of council revenue, but since then it has more than halved. This is mainly why councils across the UK are having to make cuts to services, while putting up council tax.

Given these cuts, community action is a vital part of improving the local environment and fighting climate change. For example, there must be hundreds of Cambridge volunteers that instead of just criticising the council, are quietly litter picking in their local park, or joining working parties in the nature reserves. Others are playing a vital role in the fight against climate change by sharing their experiences or volunteering with groups like Cambridge Carbon Footprint, Transition Cambridge and Cambridge Sustainable Food. This is increasingly vital work.

In my experience, community volunteers and city councillors (whichever party they are from) are decent caring people. This seems a good time to celebrate and support them all.