1st to 7th November is the annual UK Parliament Week: engaging people from across the UK with your Parliament, exploring what it means to you, and encouraging you to get involved.
This year marks the tenth anniversary of UK Parliament Week. It's a great opportunity to be part of a thriving democracy and look ahead to the next ten years, thinking about what issues are important to you and how you can work with UK Parliament to bring about change. Community groups, local organisations and schools representing every constituency across the United Kingdom have already signed up to be part of the conversation.
Duncan Baker, MP for North Norfolk said:
Since my election last year I've been so impressed by the ways in which North Norfolk people engage with politics. We receive hundreds of letters, emails, and phone calls in the constituency office every week, on a huge range of issues. I get out and about in the constituency as much as I can, and the concerns and questions people raise with me are fed back to Ministers. There have been a number of occasions, particularly during Covid-19, where the views of North Norfolk constituents have directly influenced and changed government policy.
I hope that by explaining a little about how our democracy works, it will encourage more people to become involved and have their say in how we govern.
MPs and the House of Commons
The House of Commons is the publicly-elected chamber of the Houses of Parliament. Its function is to consider, through debate, new laws and changes to existing ones; authorise taxes; and provide scrutiny of the policy and expenditure of the government.
When Parliament is sitting (meeting), MPs generally work and stay in London from Monday to Thursday each week, in order to attend and speak in debates, ask questions, and attend to their Parliamentary work. The remainder of their time is spent in their constituency, dealing with concerns, questions, and individual issues from constituents.
In order to avoid confusion, there is a strict Parliamentary protocol that MPs can only deal with enquiries and requests for help from those who live and work in their own constituency. If you contact a different MP about a local issue, they will almost certainly recommend that you contact your own MP. All MPs have an obligation to help you, whether or not you voted for them, and whether or not you support their political party.
The North Norfolk constituency office, staffed by a team of three full-time employees, is based in North Walsham and handles constituent enquiries and requests for help. You can contact them on 01692 557140 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Norfolk County Council is responsible for education, highways, transport planning, passenger transport, social care, libraries, waste disposal and recycling centres, and strategic planning.
If you have a query about any of these issues, it's best to approach the County Council first, either by using their online contact form or by looking for further information at https://www.norfolk.gov.uk.
During Covid-19, the council's telephone helpline on 0344 800 8020 is only open for queries about the following:
- Calls from or about people who are shielding or self-isolating and need help getting food, collecting prescriptions, with transport or accessing community support
- Social care, including children and adults at risk of immediate harm
- Reporting urgent highways problems
- Enquiries about births, ceremonies and deaths
- Arrangements at schools and nurseries for eligible children and children of key workers
- Making payments via our automated payments line
Your local county councillor may also be able to help you. County councillors represent a 'division' of the county, and you can find out which councillor represents you here. All councillors have an obligation to help you, whether or not you voted for them, and whether or not you support their political party. Your MP may also be able to help.
North Norfolk District Council is responsible for housing, leisure and recreation, environmental health, domestic waste collection, planning applications, and council tax. During Covid-19, the council also has responsibility for distributing funding allocated by the government for short-term business support, community support, and hardship funds.
If you have a query about any of these issues, it's best to approach the District Council first, by telephone on 01263 513811, or via their contact form here, or by looking for further information at https://www.north-norfolk.gov.uk. During Covid-19, NNDC also has a special helpline for all coronavirus-related issues on 01263 516000.
Your local district councillor may also be able to help you. District councillors represent a 'ward' of the district, and you can find out which councillor represents you here. All councillors have an obligation to help you, whether or not you voted for them, and whether or not you support their political party. Your county councillor or MP may also be able to help.
Town & Parish Councils
Town and parish councils are responsible for smaller parks and recreation areas, community centres, allotments, war memorials, and street lighting. You can find the contact details for your local parish or town council here. You can contact the council's Clerk, who is usually responsible for the council's administration; or contact one of your local parish and town councillors: many parish/town council websites include contact details for councillors.
Your local district councillor or county councillor may also be able to help.
How to get involved
There are many opportunities for people to lobby their town/parish councillors, district councillors, county councillors, and MP on a whole range of issues - not just at election times but throughout the year. Online mass campaigns are usually of limited value: councillors and MPs prefer to hear from people individually and to respond directly to their concerns and views. Instead of signing up to a campaign or online petition, why not contact your elected representatives directly and let them know what you think? Councillors and MPs enjoy interacting with their residents, businesses, and constituents and if they know how certain policies and/or decisions are affecting you directly, they're in a much better position to lobby for real and effective change.
And why not think about standing for election yourself? If you have a particular skill, life experience, or area of expertise that could be of wider use to your community, standing for election as a councillor could be a great way to stand up for yourself and others. Town and parish council elections happen every four years, though there are often 'casual vacancies' which arise from the resignation or death of a councillor - your local council will be able to provide more details. Town and parish councils are usually (though not always) 'politically neutral', so all candidates standing for election or co-option stand as independent candidates.
At district and county level, you have the choice either of standing on behalf of a political party, such as the Conservatives, Labour Party or Green Party - so you would first need to join as a member of your chosen party and then find out about their processes for selecting candidates for elections. Or you could stand as an independent - but in that case, you would be responsible for the costs of fighting your own election campaign, including leaflets, posters, and other election materials.
In England, you can stand for election if you are aged 18 or over: so why not think about getting involved?