I’ve known Councillor Angela Gabriel since 2003 when she roped me into joining the Beeston Festival Committee, but when I spoke to her this week I wanted to find out about her role as a Leeds City Councillor.
I started by asking what the role of a Councillor is:
“I am a conduit. I’m not employed by Leeds City Council, I represent the people of the Beeston & Holbeck ward. I speak on their behalf to the Council and other organisations, my job is to make these people listen to the community. I try to open the gate for people get on and do things in the community, rather than telling them they can’t.”
Gabriel is a big advocate for South Leeds. When she first became a Councillor she “camped outside the Leader’s office” to get free hanging baskets for Beeston In Bloom as other In Blooms groups around the city were getting them free. She soon realised that most senior Council officers live in North Leeds. Naturally they try to address the problems they see everyday, but areas like South Leeds can get forgotten. Gabriel started organising meetings in South Leeds to make sure these officers came out of the city centre and saw our problems at first hand.
She’s also tenacious. When a court ruled that local councils were responsible for rubbish around football grounds she stopped asking Leeds United to pay for the extra litter picking. But when a Rod Stewart concert was proposed she used the licensing process to require the club to pay £7,500 per year for extra litter picks after the concert and after every match at the ground, as a condition of the gig going ahead.
“We are only asking Leeds United to be a good neighbour. If they were a Council tenant, we would prosecute them for anti-social behaviour for causing so much rubbish, so I think it’s fair.”
Gabriel says that in many ways Councillors are more powerful than MPs. They are certainly able to influence issues that affect us day to day – housing, refuse and parking for example.
A typical day starts with an hour reading emails before work. Gabriel works three days a week for the NHS and spends two full days as Chair of the Area Committee. Most weekdays have at least one evening meeting if not two.
As a Councillor, Angela Gabriel spends a lot of time in meetings. As well as the eight full Council meetings a year, there are Labour Group meetings. Labour has 63 of the Leeds’ 99 Councillors, so these meetings are just as important as the full Council meetings.
Then there is the Inner South Area Committee, which Gabriel Chairs. As more services are devolved to this level, the workload increases. On top of the Committee meetings, she meets with officers wanting to consult her about all sorts of subjects as Council policies are constantly evolving.
Gabriel sees part of her role of giving officers the bigger picture. For example if a school is expanded, where are the extra cars going to park? If the Park and Ride scheme comes to Elland Road, what’s in it for the people of Beeston? Will they be stuck in traffic queues on Wesley Street?
The other important meetings are the residents groups. The three Beeston & Holbeck Councillors (Angela Gabriel, David Congreve and Adam Ogilvie) work as a team and make sure at least one of them gets to every residents meeting that they are aware of in the ward. They are also reorganising their surgeries because they are poorly attended. This year you can expect a letter offering to visit you at home to discuss your issues. Traditional surgeries will continue on the fourth Friday of each month at 4:00pm at St Matthews Community Centre and 5:00pm at Beeston Library.
“If people have got a problem, or want to raise an issue they need to speak to a Councillor. We can’t know everything, so you need to tell us!”
For all this work Gabriel is paid a basic allowance of £14,781 plus £8,808 for her Area Committee work. Any gifts over £50 must be declared and the only free meal she gets is on the “Mayor Making Day” – the Council’s AGM in May.
Unlike many Councillors, Angela Gabriel lives in the ward she represents.
“I got divorced and sold my old house in Moortown about a year after becoming Councillor for Beeston. I knew I wouldn’t be a Councillor forever, so I wanted to live somewhere with a rich network of social activity. Beeston fitted the bill and I’ve been very happy here. Although it does mean that I can’t even go to the Co-op without someone asking me about Council business!”