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Cllr Mark Lewis: My first 18 months as a councillor

December 8, 2020 5:56 PM
Cllr Mark Lewis

Cllr Mark Lewis

As we head into 2021, I thought I would write a short account of my first 18 months as a publically elected councillor for Brentwood North ward.

I was elected in May 2018 by a margin of 34%. The voting day and counting night was very exciting and was the culmination of about 6 months of preparing my candidacy which included a lot of knocking on doors and putting leaflets through letter boxes. It was actually a lot of fun meeting and chatting to the residents of Brentwood North...not only telling them about myself and my political and practical thoughts but, more importantly, listening to what they thought, what their concerns and issues were.

As I entered elected office for the first time, I was quite nervous, wondering how I could best fulfil my public duties and do my best for the residents of Brentwood North. Fortunately, Brentwood council runs a series of "training sessions" and member's information meetings which I was able to attend. At the same time, my fellow LibDem councillors were extremely helpful in giving me the benefit of their extensive experience so that I was able to understand the practical requirements of being a good councillor. Slowly, over time, I have been able to get a better understanding of the key issues involved in local government and what it means to be a better councillor.

There are three key aspects in being a local councillor. First, helping residents with their personal issues. Some are "daily life" type problems and others are much more serious in nature. Second, holding the ruling party, currently, the Tories to account to ensure that they manage the political affairs of Brentwood in the best interests of its residents. This is mainly done by participation on the Brentwood council committees. I currently represent the LibDems on the Policy, Resources & Economic Development ("PRED") and Audit & Scrutiny committees. This involves a lot of reading of papers and proposals and making sure that the Tories are held to account for their actions - the papers can often extend to 150-200 pages of quite complex and detailed matters. I then have to take a view on what I have read and draw some practical conclusions as to whether the proposals or ideas contained are appropriate or not. If not, I have to explain why and perhaps create alternative proposal or idea suggestions. After the May 2021 elections, I hope that the Lib Dem's will take political control of the council and I will take a much more proactive role in the running of Brentwood Council.The third and final aspect is contributing to the strategy and development of Brentwood Council...this might include, for example, residential housing strategy, the future of Brentwood's car parks and libraries or how Brentwood Council invests its money for the future...there are many aspects and clearly this involves quite a lot of thinking.

What have I learned so far?

Being a local politician is quite a demanding role and modern day issues are complex!

The councillor role is actually part time with no salary (although there is a small fixed expenses allowance) but to be a good councillor involves making available time, time to listen, time to solve problems in a well thought through manner...and importantly, not to give up, to use best efforts for a successful resolution of a problem or issue.

The residents of Brentwood have many needs and a wide range of problems to solve. So far, with "resident" or "daily life" problems, I have been able to help with a wide range of matters and requests including (but not limited to) homeless person situations, broken pavement requests, overgrown trees, the disposal of sharp needles, neighbour disputes, new gates for a Brentwood local social organisation, major planning development and licensing issues (e.g. Lidl and town centre night club hours) and individual planning requests and so on. It is a real pleasure when I can genuine make someone's life a bit better. I am always willing to help when approached and, amongst other means, I try to use my knowledge of Brentwood organisations and council personnel and procedures to help solve the issues at hand. It can be a bit frustrating when it is not possible to achieve a full result, for example, financial cuts which mean Essex County Council do not have the means to make-up all the potholes or finish all the tree-cutting on a timely basis. However, I always try to do my best!

I have participated actively in Brentwood Council committees. After ten years of Tory central government cuts of funding to local authorities, the problems of Brentwood Council are quite difficult to solve with the many cuts to council services and projects. It has been interesting to see the range of methods and solutions used to try to solve for these problems. The Tories have now been in power at Brentwood Council for a decade and, in my view, have managed Brentwood's affairs during this time in a rather incompetent manner. Examples include the closure of the Brentwood Centre due to the insolvency of the Brentwood Leisure Trust, the failure to execute a sensible Local Development Plan after over a decade of discussion and the approval of secret and risky investment schemes which could bankrupt the town. Brentwood also has one of the worst pollution rates of any town in Essex - a record of shame, quite honestly.

I think it is time for a fresh breath of political air. Brentwood deserves a more intelligent and well thought through approach to its problems and future

I have worked with my LibDem colleagues on policy and strategy - the issues involved can be complex and challenging. The Tory record over the last decade has largely been one of stagnation, incompetence, and failure. I hope that after May 2021's local elections, my colleagues and I will have the opportunity to put our well thought through policies into action. If Brentwood is to survive and prosper through the current covid-19 crisis and into the next generation, it needs a significant upgrade in political leadership. The Tories simply do not have the skills and competence - from the experience of both my 18 months as a councillor for Brentwood north and my professional business background that much is very clear. The residents of Brentwood deserve more.

It is also clear that Brentwood Council has many hard working, dedicated and focused workers - I see this across my activities as councillor whether through residents' "daily issues", committee or policy and strategic matters - for this, the residents of Brentwood should be grateful.

We are now in the middle of a unique situation, the COVID-19 pandemic. Everyone's lives have been affected, many in a serious way. I cannot even begin to describe the issues in a full manner. I hope that the vaccine programme will mean we can begin to look at the future with greater hope. The impacts and reverberations of COVID-19 will undoubtedly be with us for a long time. Being a councillor during this time has been difficult although the use of IT technology has greatly eased the communication challenges and, notwithstanding the lockdown and tier issues, I have continued to try and do my best. I can also clearly see that Brentwood Council staff and the residents of Brentwood North have tried their best to rise to the challenges of this terrible issue.

Overall, the past 18 months have been an interesting experience. Challenging, yes; frustrating at times, yes; but am I disappointed, no. When I can solve a problem for a resident of Brentwood North, it makes the effort worthwhile.

Finally, my councillor hopes for 2021? I will definitely continue my efforts for the residents of Brentwood North so, first and foremost, the end of COVID-19, second, the end of incompetent tory rule in Brentwood and third, an opportunity to put my capabilities and experiences to better use after the May 2021 local elections as part of a newly elected political leadership in Brentwood.

Mark Lewis is councillor for Brentwood North ward and can be contacted on mark.lewis@brentwoodlibdems.org.uk