On 4th May, more than 8,000 seats will be contested at 230 councils across England (not including London), while mayoral elections are also taking place in Bedford, Leicester, Mansfield and Middlesbrough.
While central Government controls the funding local authorities receive, local councillors do have significant powers. From decisions around the building of new homes for social rent, to how existing stock is allocated, to funding decisions that could directly affect the service you run, the make-up of a local council has a big impact on housing and homelessness issues within your local area.
During the run up to an election, those standing are in listening mode. They are keen to understand the issues at play and to show voters they care and that they have solutions to their needs. So now is your chance to influence them.
The next few weeks is the perfect time to engage potential councillors in your area. Using the run up to an election to cultivate these relationships can not only influence council decisions over the next term, it can also mean you have good contacts if you ever want to raise issues with the council moving forward.
If you don’t know who is standing for election in your local area, you can use this handy search tool to check. You can legitimately talk to candidates where you live and where your service is based and operates. Once you have done that there are a number of different ways you can get in contact with candidates.
Candidates like to be seen to be on top of local issues and connecting with the community, so contacting them, either by email or through social media, and inviting them to visit your service is a really effective way to engage. You should invite the relevant candidates from all parties to show balance. Even if they don’t have a hope of winning they can still take a message back to their party colleagues.
The ‘Getting the messaging right’ section of our Local Authority Influencing Toolkit contains guidance around what Councillors and candidates to contact and what messaging is most effective when influencing them. In general, Councillors and candidates often to prefer human stories over dry data, however, a healthy balance of both is important. Therefore, invite them to come and visit your service and hear from staff and the people you support about the work you do and the potential impact of cutting budgets, as well as using any useful data you have to show them the impact of your service in quantitative terms too. However, if you are understandably too busy to entertain someone, simply asking for a chat over the phone is still a good way to get your voice heard.
It’s also important to note, that these elections will be the first since the UK Government has introduced a new law requiring people to show photo ID when voting in a polling station at some elections. For more information how best to support people experiencing homelessness to register to vote ahead of the elections, take a look at this blog from Tim Crowley, Head of Digital Communications and Voter Engagement at the Electoral Commission.
Finally, if you are keen to contact people standing for election in your area but still aren’t sure of the best way to go about it, Homeless Link is happy to support. You can drop me a line at email@example.com. Overall we would strongly encourage you to engage now – it may pay realy dividends in the months and years ahead.