Mike Sparling tells us about life as a Plymouth City Councillor and why you should get involved
What made you get involved in politics?
I’ve always had an interest in the things happening around me and in the processes and people that shape them. This interest led me to study politics at A-levels and then at Higher Education too. At this time, I could see for myself that a Labour government was really delivering for equality and fairness and not just talking about it. It was clear to me then, as now, that the Labour movement cared more about people than money and that it needed people to stand up for those values. After getting involved with organisations such as Labour Students and LGBT Labour, I put myself forward for election as a borough councillor, county councillor and even as a parliamentary candidate. I didn’t always win these elections, but it was fantastic experience.
And then in 2014 you were elected to Plymouth City Council, what made you stand for local government?
Local government really matters. This is especially so somewhere like Plymouth, which is a unitary authority. This essentially means that all local services are the responsibility of a single authority. No pressure then!
I was passionate about the Labour Party and the difference it can make to a community like Plymouth. It seemed like a natural jump to take a bigger role in helping Labour work for Plymouth.
I am proud that I’m part of making Plymouth City Council successful, hard-working and brave in the choices it makes to make Plymouth a better place. I’m one of the youngest councillors and I think that’s important because I can represent the views of people my age and show others that you can stand for election, win and represent constituents at a younger age.
We need more diversity in our elected representatives and its humbling to be a part of starting to make that happen by representing Stoke ward on Plymouth City Council.
In your time as a councillor, what is your proudest achievement?
I’m proud to be part of a Labour Group that is really delivering for Plymouth. We have created a brilliant cooperative council and are transforming the way services are delivered. For example, we are integrating health and social care in a really pioneering way. All of this, of course, is in the shadow of devastating cuts to local government from the Tories. In some ways, we are the last line of defence.
Whilst our work as a Labour Group is vital, my proudest moments are when I’m able to support an individual or a community group, by cutting through bureaucracy, signposting them to appropriate agencies or even by securing funding for them.
What does a typical councillor's day look like?
Extremely varied! Certainly no two days or weeks are the same. Broadly my responsibilities are balanced between ward obligations on the one hand and city council obligations on the other.
Ward obligations include chairing regular ‘Have Your Say’ public meetings, holding private casework surgeries, sitting ‘ex officio’ on community group committees (for example, the neighbourhood watch), site visits with council officers or contractors (for example to inspect highways maintenance or allotments), awarding community grant awards, opening the Summer Fayre and much more!
Council obligations are quite different. This involves, for example, attending Full Council (very political!), sitting on scrutiny panels, attending civic events such as ‘Armed Forces Day’ and being appointed by Full Council to outside bodies. For example, I am a school governor and sit on the Dartmoor National Park Forum, Plymouth Senior Citizens Forum and Mount Edgcumbe Joint Committee.
What would you say to young members who want to get more involved in their local parties?
There’s nothing stopping you. If you’re hard working, passionate about the Labour Party and committed to helping people then this could be a role for you. It’s an important and demanding position but it’s so rewarding and is a brilliant way to give a little back to your community.
If you need advice speak to people that have already done it and get a better idea of how everything works. Speak to the regional organisers about elections coming up and go for it!
Mike Sparling is the Labour and Co-operative Councillor for Stoke ward on Plymouth City Council.