COUNCILLORS are not always the most adored public servants – in fact, they get a lot of stick from the public and the media, held responsible for houses being built and houses not being built, parking problems and parking tickets, dog dirt and pigeon droppings, and a whole lot besides.
So why would anyone put themselves forward for the role? It’s not for the money – they get a basic allowance of around £4,000. It’s not about respect – politicians are seen as even less trustworthy than estate agents. No, according to three of Craven District Council’s newest members, it really is all about trying to help their community.
For Cllr David Pighills, who was elected in May as an Independent in the Barden Fell ward, the committee meetings have taken a bit of getting used to, but he is enjoying listening to his constituents and doing his best to assist them. “I do love going round the parishes and listening to people’s problems and trying to help them with issues,” he said. “A lot of it is highways, and there are always issues with planning.
“Just at the moment it’s telephone boxes – BT are trying to close the telephone boxes down, but a lot of people want them to remain as an emergency service, particularly in areas where there’s no mobile signal.”
Cllr Pighills, who took over his father-in-law’s hill farm in 2002, says he understands a lot of the rural issues people face. “There are things I can relate to being from an agricultural background,” he said. “I’ve been involved in farming all my life. It’s all I ever wanted to do. I don’t look at it as a job, I look at it as something that I get so much satisfaction out of.”
Putting in 70 to 80 hours a week on his sheep farm is hard work and he admits he was surprised to be elected as a councillor but is determined to do his best. “All the paperwork takes up a lot of time but I do like helping people,” he said.
Cllr Chris Rose, who was elected in Skipton West for the Labour Party in May, agrees it’s tough getting to grips with the bureaucracy.
“It’s a very steep learning curve, particularly being on the planning committee and appreciating how tricky that is,” she said. “People need houses and people don’t want houses built. You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. It’s very difficult.
“That’s been very interesting. I feel as though there’s a huge amount to learn. I think the planning officers do a super job. They’re being objective, giving you the facts and the figures – I do admire the work that they do.”
Like her Barden colleague, Cllr Rose says she never had any major political ambitions. “I was a paper candidate many times and was quite happy to do that,” she said. “We were having a campaign meeting in our local branch and I said I didn’t think there were many women’s names put forward so my name was put down for Skipton West. Then it suddenly appeared that Skipton West was a winnable seat.
“I was pleased as much for the campaign team as I was for myself. I feel privileged really.”
Cllr Rose has been a teacher for 40 years, mainly in secondary school, and spent 20 years teaching biology at Upper Wharfedale School, Thresfield. She still teaches at Craven College and is an active member and coach at Skipton AC running club, having recently completed the Yorkshire Marathon in four hours and 20 minutes – eighth in her age group.
She says councillors have an important role to play in helping local people to improve their communities, and has been involved with setting up a residents’ association in Broughton Road.
“People have issues which are very close to them,” she said. “We can’t solve all their problems but we can at least listen and help them, and point them in the right direction. We can help people feel that they’ve been heard.
“Traffic is a big issue, Skipton is getting busier, parking issues definitely come up, and pigeon poo, I’ve learnt a lot about pigeon poo since becoming a councillor.”
Cllr Tanya Graham, elected for the Conservatives in Upper Wharfedale in May, does have a background in politics, having stood for Parliament in Bradford South.
However, she’s also lived in Grassington for the last 13 years and is firmly rooted in the community.
“My children have grown up in the area and you become involved in the community,” she said. “Being a councillor is very interesting. There’s a lot to get used to as a new councillor – the set up within meetings and understanding how it works, but they’re very helpful at the council with dealing with our questions.
“The best part is dealing with people’s issues. There are two roles really, there’s the more constitutional side, attending meetings, but then there’s the side where you’re dealing with people’s issues on a more local basis. That’s rewarding, seeing if you can make a difference; sometimes you can and sometimes you can’t.
“It’s about finding where you feel you would be most of use. There are so many different personalities involved in the council, and it’s about finding your path. That’s why it’s good that it’s a four-year role, you keep developing and extending your experience. There are lots of very experienced councillors to ask for advice.”
Cllr Graham is keen to encourage more people to get involved in local politics one way or another.
“I would really recommend it,” she said. “I’d especially like to see more women involved. I think we need to encourage as many people to get involved in their local community as we can, and look at becoming councillors, school governors, parish councillors. I would encourage people to get involved; it’s interesting and you’re trying to shape the future of your community.”