What is it like to be a member of Birmingham City Council?

With the second-city seeing a host of new people entering the council chamber during the last few years, the Local Democracy Reporting Service has asked some of them exactly that.

One person from each political party represented on the authority has been interviewed.

In the third of the four-part feature, Julien Pritchard talks about the 'anonymous' council processes and the 'frustrating' attitude that the 'resident is always wrong'.

The 33-year-old charity worker was elected last year to represent Druids Heath and Monyhull. He is the council's only Green party member.

Cllr Julien Pritchard. LDRS
Cllr Julien Pritchard. LDRS

 

Why did you want to become a councillor? 

I've got a strong sense of social justice and I basically just want to help as many people as I can, as well as I can.

I had an interest in Birmingham politics for a while and wanted to try and make a difference myself both for the area I represent and to the city as well.

I have also been inspired by Green party councillors in other areas and what they've done. It seemed like a good way of trying to make a change.

Is being a councillor what you expected? 

Yes I would say so, it's more or less what I expected.

What has been the biggest surprise? 

No big surprises really.

What has been your biggest achievement?

Residents protest in Druids Heath calling for library to re-open. LDRS
Residents protest in Druids Heath calling for library to re-open. LDRS

Getting the money to get Druids Heath Library open again. Myself and other people from the community were worried that the temporary closure might become permanent.

It's great that a combination of me asking questions and community campaigning has got a result.

What has been the most challenging part of being a councillor? 

There are day-to-day things that are quite frustrating. When you get casework you are working on trying to help residents with, there sometimes is a sense [from the council] that the resident is always wrong or the council knows best, or actually more often the contractor knows best.

It's as much about trying to get the council, or council contractor, to take residents' concerns seriously as it is about solving problems. There's an attitude there that I find quite frustrating. It's not everybody, it's not universal, but it definitely exists.

Druids Heath
Druids Heath

 

If you could change one thing about the council (apart from the political make-up) what would it be? 

The council processes are often quite anonymous, there's not much of a personal touch because a personal touch is expensive.

It's those processes from the council-end, how they work, but because I get all the complaints I can see they are not working.

It's things like something on a system will be put as 'resolved' or 'dealt with', but what that means is 'it's been looked at and we've decided not to do something'.

For example if someone requests a repair for a street light, or even a new street light, it will come on the system as completed, in the case of a request of a new street light, when they've made a decision to reject it.

The processes are not tailored it's very much when something's completed it means somebody's been out, they think it's fine on the day, therefore it's sorted but for whatever reason, what they've done hasn't sorted it, it's a recurring issue.

Whether it be housing, a leak in a flat or whatever, time and again you end up saying 'no it's not been sorted'.

 

How do you spend most of your councillor time? 

A lot of casework. Housing, fly-tipping, rubbish collections. Casework and correspondence takes up the majority of the time.

What is the biggest issue in your ward? 

The regeneration [of Druids Heath] is the big issue. On one side of the estate there are issues with parking, all over the ward fly-tipping is the issue. There's a lack of council resource to often clean it up as quick as residents would like.

Also the council won't collect fly-tipping that's not on council land. In a ward like mine you have a lot of unadopted tracks. The council says it's not their's it's private, when fly-tipping appears on those sorts of tracks they won't clear it up. That's very frustrating and residents are rightly annoyed.

Then there's council housing issues, then missed bin collections and the bin service, some crime and anti-social behaviour as well, those would be the things I get most.

What barriers are there to becoming a councillor?

Julien Pritchard

Diversity of councillors is important. It's made for people who are retired and have their own income, or other income, or they have paid off their mortgage or whatever.

It's difficult if you have children and you are the primary carer, or even if you have any carer responsibilities, for maybe an older family member, it's difficult because of the time you spend on it.

You don't earn enough as a councillor, depending on your circumstances, you probably won't earn enough to sustain it on its own. You need to do other work as well. It's not a call for more money as I actually voted against that.

Also, getting elected is really hard unless you have got a big party machine behind you. Getting elected as not one of the big two parties [Labour and Conservative] or as an independent, that's really difficult.