SD Guide to Local Government Lobbying


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A guide to lobbying at Local Government and Devolved Parliaments and Assemblies in the UK.

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SD Guide to Local Government Lobbying

  1. 1. 1Supporters Directthe supporters’ trusts initiativeGuide to LobbyingLocal Government...As a supporters’ trust, you are a local campaigning organisation,and you can be very effective at putting pressure on localgovernment.Local councils make decisions that affect almost every area of our day-to-day lives. For example, theydeliver services, make important decisions on planning matters, and provide mechanisms of bringingtogether local community interests.At ward level, local councillors can win or lose an election on a few hundred votes or less, and so yourcampaign could have a tangible effect.You might find that often you will have to undertake a very swift campaign that means you do not havesignificant time for planning, so you also need to know how to quickly and easily establish the rightcampaign, with the right materials, and using the right methods. There is a separate section headed‘Reactive and Short-Term Campaigning’ further on in this guide’.The guide is broken up into the following sections:1. About local councils2. What is lobbying?3. Long term & relationship building4. Reactive & short-term campaigningThis guide is not exhaustive by any means, and you will still need to find out a lot of information pertinentto your own campaign or lobbying effort.The internet is always an excellent source of information, and most of the material on your local authorityand how it works can be found on its own website. You can find this and other relevant information onthe Government’s own website for services and departments, on ScotlandBecause of devolution in Scotland, each section provides appropriate information for the particularcircumstances applying for information on Scottish only councils.In WalesThe Government of Wales Act 2006 has introduced the ability of the National Assembly for Wales to makeits own legislation on devolved matters such as health, education, social services, local government. Thesewill be a new category of Welsh laws called Assembly Measures.Before making Measures in relation to a particular area of devolved government, the National Assemblyfor Wales will need to obtain ‘legislative competence’ – the legal authority to pass Measures – on a case bycase basis by the UK Parliament.For more information, visit or
  2. 2. 2What types of council are there?In England and Wales in 2000, local government was reorganised, requiring that all local authorities moveaway from the traditional committee style of decision-making, where all members had a formal decisionmaking role. The new models require one of four executive models, i.e. leader or cabinet; mayor orcabinet; mayor or council manager; or alternative arrangements.In England and Wales there is county government as well, or in the case of London for example, theGreater London Authority and executive Mayor.In some cases, a coalition cannot be formed, and the largest party governs without a majority.In ScotlandIn Scotland since 2007, local councillors have been elected by Single Transferable vote. The number ofwards was reduced leading to an increase in size, and now 3 or 4 councillors represent each ward.Councils tend to operate in a committee style of decision-making.As well as local councillors many wards will also have a Community Council. Those serving on theCommunity Council are obliged to work in the best interests of their community and ensure that theirviews are heard. They are statutory bodies whose rights and powers have been granted by variousdifferent laws including Local Government Act (2000) and laws and regulations of the EuropeanParliament. They are not a tier of the local council but independent of them.How are councils elected?The council is made up of councillors and officers, with councillors generally elected by their constituentsin local elections held every four years. In some local authorities in England & Wales elections take place inthree out of four years with a certain number of councillors standing for re-election.What do councillors do, and what is the difference between a councillorand a council officer?The job of a councillor is to represent people in her or his ward. Councillors are usually members of anational political party, though independents do exist in a significant number of councils – even runningsome authorities. Councillors usually operate on the council in party groupings, with the work of thecouncil carried out by staff called officers. Their job is to carry out the daily work of the authority, to makepolicy recommendations to the councillors, to administer and implement them. They are appointed, notelected. In the same way that there are MPs in Parliament, ministers in government, and civil servants whodo the work of the government, it is the same with a council, and officers are the ‘civil servants’ of thecouncil.Whilst they are ultimately responsible to councillors who are the more senior, as with ministers and civilservants, on many issues the officers write the proposals and the councillors agree to them. The oppositionof the councillors will see these proposals change, but the majority of policies put forward locally will bedeveloped by the officers and approved by the - Parliamentary and Health Service - Local Government OmbudsmanIn - Scottish Public Services - Convention of Scottish Local AuthoritiesWhat about your MP?One of the key features of an MP is their status. In a local area there is more than one councillor, but thereis usually only one MP – certainly if there is an issue regarding, for example, the location of a ground, thelocal MP will have a role to play, the key feature being their influence. It is much more difficult for a public1. About Local Councils
  3. 3. 3body, for example, to ignore a request from an MP. In the initial stages of an application – or at least assoon as you are aware of it – it is always sensible to arrange a meeting with him or her.Remember: MPs have a huge number of demands on their time, and so you will need to be clear andconcise about what it is you are asking them to do.An MP might also be able to act as an intermediary in a problem between you and the club, or the council,or another organisation in the local area you might be having problems with, or might want to discuss anissue with.Many supporters’ trusts have asked their MP to use something called an ‘Early Day Motion’. However, thishas become a very widely used method of gaining attention for a campaign, and many MPs believe it tobe far less effective as a campaigning tool.You can find out more about your MP and what (s)he is doing by going to the website below:www.theyworkforyou.comIn ScotlandWhat about your MSP?In Scotland, MSPs are elected by using the Additional Members System. This system combines thetraditional first past the post system and Proportional Representation. This means that each constituencywill have several regional MSPs as well as a constituency member. The Scottish Parliament deals withdevolved issues including health, education, justice, rural affairs, transport and - Scottish - Scottish ParliamentIn WalesWhat about your AM?In Wales the function of an Assembly Member (AM) is slightly different to an MSP, as devolution has notmeant the same amount of power being in the hands of the Welsh Assembly.However, the Welsh Assembly and Welsh Assembly Government does deal with the many of the sameareas as the Scottish Government and - Welsh Assembly - The Welsh Assembly
  4. 4. 4What is lobbying?In essence, it’s about building relationships with people who are important to what you do. People makedecisions at all sorts of levels, one level that you will find these decisions affect you on a day-to-day basis iswith your local council. Just like building relationships with journalists is important to you, so is buildingrelationships with local politicians.As a supporters’ trust, you might need to talk about a planning issue around your club’s ground, or youmight want to establish some connections with other local community organisations. Whatever it is,lobbying is what you do to establish and maintain these relationships. It’s just like having a relationshipwith anyone else: if you do not communicate with them, neither of you will know what the other onethinks, wants, likes, or needs.When a proposed action or policy is successful it is often because it is something that many people can livewith, and people find helpful to their own, often divergent, interests. Lobbying is not just showing whyyou think your case is right, but also showing how your case can help lots of other people achievesomething they think is important, bringing to the attention of councillors an issue that there may be agroundswell of support on.This approach is one you will use when you are trying to improve the relationship with your club, orattempting to ensure that the local authority can see you as a partner in a potential project. If what youwant to know is how to carry out a more reactive, short term campaign, see the section beneath this,titled ‘Reactive & short-term campaigning’.Some ways of lobbyingI Face-to-face meetingsI LettersI PhonecallsI Public events (meetings or other formal occasions)Picking the right methodThere will be times when a public event will be appropriate, but think carefully. Here are some questions toconsider: what is the event; what are you inviting the person there for; and what do you expect to achieveby having that person/organisation there?2. About Lobbying3. Long-term and relationship building
  5. 5. 5Tips to make your lobbying a successI Councillors influence other people’s views, and with their support you might find it easier when tryingto win the support of a local MP or local businessman, for example. Crucially, with many decisionsbeing proposed by officers, councillors are much better placed to change officer’s minds than outsidebodies (this can also often happen the other way round). A combination of pressure within and fromoutside can be very powerful.I Identify ‘pressure points’ – so keep an eye on the local council’s agenda, both through formaldocuments and the local paper. Then, when they are discussing business that may affect your club, youcan capitalise on the relationships you have built to make your case to them, and affect their decisionson these issues. Councils often have national policy targets they have to implement regardless ofwhich party they are. Two such examples are ‘Economic Development and the Environment (England &Wales), or ‘Safer and Stronger Communities’ (England, Wales & Scotland) and promoting healthylifestyles; all councils need to work to targets set under these strategies, so working out how yourproposal can help them achieve such things can be crucial.I Do not forget there are a number of parties on any local council, and they will need to be aware ofyour case. If one side does not support you, the other may well do. Issues often go beyond the wardboundary of where the club is sited in anyway. Whilst support for you might end up splitting on partylines, start from the assumption that this is an issue you see as something everyone can get behind.Obviously, it makes sense to lobby people from the group or groups in control of the council.I Use local election campaigns to your advantage, to gain undertakings from all of the candidates for aparticular ward. Be proactive – why not host a candidate’s hustings where you can give the event theflavour you are looking for? At election time, all politicians of every type will be looking for ways tomeet voters, so meetings organised by a trust can be of wide interest. In addition, in the periodleading up to and during an election, everything is up for grabs. Parties are more likely to agree tothings which a year earlier they were less in favour of.I Councillors often have a role in the national parties they are a member of – and may chose to take upany of the issues you are raising within that arena, which might be used to the advantage of SD’s andthe trust movement’s wider work.I Establish good relationships with council officers. They can have a large amount of influence in whatpolicies are formulated and established.And don’t forget...I Think about what you want to get out of the meetingI Have you got any appropriate literature available, e.g. Supporters Direct Magazines, supporters’ trustguides etc?I Visit the SD website, or call a Development OfficerI Be clear and conciseI Tell the councillor why the issue is a concern to youI Ask the councillor how they are going to deal with this issue, or how they are going to take it further.Councillors get lobbied by lots of people, so your chances of success are likely to be higher if you givethem concrete actions they can take, rather than ask them to think of ways they can help you.Remember, you are asking for them to help you by using their power, so it’s your job to think of waystheir power can be used to help you. It’s easy for anyone to say they agree, and they will see what theycan do, and then do nothing. Give them several options for what they can practically do to assist you,and explain how the idea may also assist them in their aims and objectives as councillors (mutualbenefit).
  6. 6. Carrying out a campaign that has to be organised quickly and efficiently, and where you have todisseminate complex messages, or convince influential groups of people in a short space of time is adifferent challenge to the long-term, relationship building we have already looked at.Here is what you need to do if you are fighting a reactive or crisis campaign. These are not exclusive to thissort of campaigning, and many of these are good tips for any kind of campaigning.High profile or low key?Is your campaign going to be one that needs big public support for, or are you going to be more ‘discrete’?Sometimes, the best results come from lobbying the decision makers by talking to them and having one-to-one meetings. Sometimes, the best method is to do it very publicly, by inviting the key decision makers to apublic meeting or event. You need to think carefully which approach will be most suitable.Ensure clear points of contactEnsure that your board have got a main point of contact for all enquiries from key figures that you areapproaching: This should also apply to contacts from the press and media. It is usually advised for this tobe the Chair and/or Vice Chair and press or communications officer respectively.Clear messages are crucialDraw up your key messages and how you are going to communicate them: Clarity is absolutely essential:You cannot communicate if you are unsure what it is you are trying to say, and you cannot communicate amessage if you do not know who you are communicating it to, or how you are communicating it. SD hassome simple communications and media plans that might help, so get in touch.Make sure you have nominated spokespeopleIdentifying who is speaking on your and your members behalf is essential: any organisation that has apublic face will have only a small number of people entitled to provide public comment. Mostorganisations will have a nominated press and publicity officer who will be the principle contact, and mostsupporters’ trusts will also use their Chair and Vice-Chair too.Create easy-to-use campaign materialsIf you have decided that a letter writing campaign is going to be a campaign tool, draft a model letter formembers, fans and other supporters to be able to send to councillors. This could also be used as a modelletter to send to the local newspaper as part of your campaign. Another key way of maintaining the story,or increasing the pressure on local councillors and decision makers is to encourage people to call up yourlocal radio station. If you want to do this, make sure you have some bullet points drafted for people to beable to refer to when they are speaking; these are all ways of making sure that your message gets outthere, and all the people who need to hear it do.Know who your key contacts areEstablish a list or database of council members or key contacts you want people to lobby, and make thisavailable to whoever you think needs it. You might only need to place a link on your website to theappropriate page on the local authority website.Make the trust the hub for informationUse your website as a campaign hub, and for those who do not have regular access to the web, make sureyour you send out mailings as appropriate, or use the local paper, or even give out leaflets or flyers atmatches. You might find it helpful if you set up a separate blog site for this purpose, and put a link onyour main website. Try: or or Blogs are quickand easy to set up and easy to use. Ideal if you need to act fast!Finally...If you are a trust who needs a bit of guidance or assistance on your campaign, just contact SD and speakto a Development Officer. We also have a number of materials that you might find useful as anorganisation during any campaign.64. Reactive & short-term