Local government need different kinds of people willing to stand for election so that parties get a choice of quality candidates: councillors who are capable, vibrant, energetic and engaged, with a commitment to local people and a passion for change. We asked Sutton Council leader and London Councils vice chair, Cllr Ruth Dombey OBE some questions about her career and what it takes to be a councillor.
Cllr Ruth Dombey OBE
When did you first become interested in politics – do you remember how old you were?
I started to get interested when I was about 15. My old-fashioned school didn't offer politics as a subject and wouldn't even let me invite the local MP along to talk to us. I took a gap year and went to work on a kibbutz in Israel. I met people from all over the world and started to talk to them about things that mattered. I was hooked!
Why did you decide to become a councillor?
I lived in Italy for nearly 20 years after getting my degree (in Politics) - we talked a lot about politics and setting the world to rights but there was little actual campaigning. When I returned to England I met a group of people who were actually getting things done in their local area - and they showed me the power of local government and how councillors can make such a difference to people's lives. Their ideas and methods about community campaigning and empowering people to make decisions for themselves resonated with me and I knew I wanted to get involved.
What most surprised you about being a councillor?
I never realised what a difference councillors can make to people's lives. And (like most people) I had no idea just how many services that councils deliver. I was really surprised by the huge range of services. But I also didn't appreciate how much central government controls the funding and tends to see local government as their delivery arm - the lack of understanding of local government by Whitehall and MPs still continues to amaze me.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I like to work as a team and work out solutions together. I don't like the strong leader model - we get much better results when we work together. But there are times when I need to take a lead and up the pace and I'm not afraid to do it.
Who is your political hero?
How do you juggle being a leader and other commitments?
I’m well organised and I'm very lucky to have a great family who wholeheartedly support me. I make sure that there is always time for them (although I’m guilty of taking a sneaky peak at emails whilst on holiday).
I have an excellent Deputy Leader who I can rely on and a fantastic team of councillors who really know their stuff! And Sutton Council has a great team of officers who are always there to provide help when needed. But the role of leader is all consuming and there are times when the juggling doesn't go so well and balls are dropped. The important thing is to pick them up and keep going.
What advice would you offer someone thinking of becoming a councillor?
Do it - if you really want to make a difference to the area where you live, to your local community. You don’t need any specific qualifications to become a councillor - no other role gives you a chance to make such a huge difference to the quality of life for people in your local area.
Being a councillor can be hard work and stressful but it can also be a lot of fun and you get to meet so many people from many different walks of life. It’s very rewarding - it's the best decision I've ever made.