From the blog

Why don’t more business people become councillors?

BY PAUL CLEMENT

As Jeremy Corbyn was being swept to Labour leadership, illness our daughter was applying to represent her class on the school council. Whether or not she will succeed seems to rely on her ‘big ideas’ of more non-uniform days and free ice cream for all.

As we helped her put the final touches to her manifesto, I was reminded of a question posed at one of the pre-election hustings of the Ipswich general election candidates – “why don’t more business people become councillors”?

I am not entirely sure of the answer, but I suspect that there are three main reasons.

Firstly, most people would not welcome the personal exposure, scrutiny and inevitable criticism that election may bring. One of the dis-benefits of our 24-hour news and social media world is that, put one foot wrong, and the world knows about it before you have even had a chance to explain yourself. Not everyone would want to face that in return for a small allowance and the reimbursement of expenses.

Secondly, whilst we may love to criticise them when it suits, I think we all admire just how hard our politicians work. It’s not just the number of hours, it’s that it involves lunchtime committees and evening agendas. You have got to really want to do that on top of a full-time job.

Finally, local councillors are elected by residents, not businesses, and local councils often struggle to demonstrate that they understand and represent commerce. This is something of a ‘chicken and egg’ conundrum since, until there are more business folk as councillors, the voice of business at those late-night committees is always going to be marginal.

Some would suggest that paying local councillors more would attract those who currently shy away. Personally, I am not convinced that money is the answer. It seems to me that it is much more about making the role attractive rather than off-putting, more conducive with working life, and more relevant to private industry. How can we incentivise businesses that it’s in their interests to encourage their staff to stand for election?

Or maybe it’s just a matter of making politics fun…..…more ice cream anyone?

A similar article appeared in the East Anglian Daily Time on Tuesday 22 September 2015.