Councillor attendance at Surrey Heath (or not?)

We have just received the annual report on councillor attendance at Surrey Heath and this is due to be officially tabled at the Full Council on Wednesday.

Now councillors of all parties are very busy people trying to combine their role as a local representative with their work and family commitments and occasionally (dare we say it?) a social life. Most people would understand that even the most diligent members would sometimes miss out on a meeting as long as it is for good reason.

However, it is very disappointing that there are a core of people who get elected and then cannot even be bothered to send their apologies according to the official Council report. It is really important that they do so for two reasons namely:-

1) It shows that they take their duties of putting the views of local residents seriously.
2) It then means that a substitute from their political group can then attend instead who is able to speak and vote on the matters in hand.

So who are the people who keep doing this? Well, here’s the list which is in the public domain.

– Cllr Gandhum (Lightwater) – failed to send apologies for 6 of the 14 planning committees.
– Cllr Cullen (Heatherside) – failed to send apologies for 5 of his 10 scrutiny committees.
– Cllr Pitt – failed to send apologies for 3 out of the 10 Full Council meetings and 1 of the 3 Licensing Committees.

There are 3 other Conservative councillors who didn’t send apologies on 3 separate occasions.

I am really pleased to say that out of the 34 recorded occasions when a councillor did not bother to send apologies for a meeting where they are a member, not a single one of those was from any of the 5 Opposition members.

Turning to attendance generally, this is much more varied and an interesting theme develops here. There are only 8 councillors out of 40 who have missed one meeting or less during the year and they are:-

– Cllr Bush (who serves as the Executive)
– Cllr M Gibson (Council Leader)
– Cllr Mansell (current Mayor)
– Cllr May (a Scrutiny Chair)
– Cllr Price (a Scrutiny Vice-chair)
– Cllr Whittart (Opposition Deputy Group Leader)
– Cllr Hamilton
+ me (Opposition Group Leader).

Spot the theme here – everyone apart from Cllr Hamilton has other Council responsibilities as well and yet manage to fit them in. Four of the above 8 have paid jobs outside the Council as well. It is possible to do it although am sure that the 8 of us would agree that it can be hard at times.

Of the rest, I know that many work unsocial hours, some work regularly abroad, some have difficult family or personal circumstances and that illness both long and short-term has been an issue for others. I want to make it clear that the vast majority of councillors of all parties and none take their roles very seriously and that Councils are best when we have such a wide variety of people taking part from all walks of life. Also, meetings is only one part of the councillor role which also involves casework and general community working. The meetings though do mean that you get the chance to speak a local voice into the Chamber when decisions are made.

But my concern is that it takes no effort to tell a colleague or an officer that you are not able to attend a meeting and to try and get one of the designated substitutes from your group instead. If we all took the attitude of a small minority, the Council decision making would just grind to a halt which is in no-one’s interest…

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