Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Councillors' training

One of the areas I am now responsible for in my portfolio at the City Council is training and support for elected councillors. So I went to a training session with two hats on last night. The session, for newly elected councillors (and I am sort of that) was on equal opportunities. I wanted to benefit from the training as an individual, but also see at first hand the sort of training we were offering.

The good news was that this was a really good, thought provoking session. The bad news was that, out of the new councillors, there were only four of us there (myself and Gary Millar from the Lib Dems and Richard McLinden and Brian Dowling for Labour). (To be fair I ought to say that the new Green Councillor did try to attend but there were timing issues). It is bad news for those who weren't able to be there as it was a surprisingly good session and not the usual trot through the legislation. Hopefully we can find a way of offering this again.

But it raises a question of timing. I suspect that when you are very new you are trying to sort out all sorts of balancing acts to do with the rest of your life - so perhaps training for new people needs to be not quite so soon after the election (apart from the really basic need to know stuff). There is also the question of how much training people actually need or want. I love training as you always pick up something new but others may see this as a chore and we need to explore whether that is the case.

Anyway Josie Mullen (assistant exec member)and I will be looking at this as one of our priority areas this year.


PM Swimmer said...

There are things that councillors need to be aware off these days,
Climate change is an obvious one that shoudl require councillors to undergo training, its an incredibly important topic and difficult topic which you cannot get to grips to be relying on party info, newspapers or material from action groups.

Other things would be appropriate use of public resources/ funds, being brought up to speed with local and regional investment initiatives, understanding local gov structure the list goes on. As someone that has to read gov strategies and hare brained local gov schemes I'd probably include some kind of basic training in critical evaluation or the scientific method but I doubt many politicians would go for something that would require them to rely in facts.

And i'm sorry if people can't attend training sessions then they should have to resign. This isn't the 1800s , city grandees can't just sit on councils along with all their family memebers (whoops wait that does happen here) and decide they'll build something cause they fancy it, the issues involved are complicated and if you aren't willing to undergo basic training then you aren't fit to govern.

This touches on the issue of failing to engage in consultations and I think that in your role you should move towards publishing the attendance record of councillors at meeting, the number of surgeries they have, their responses to local intitative consulations and their attendance at training sessions, the expenses claims of councillors plus records of hospitality recieved. The voters deserve to know what there councillors actually do.

Oh and before you say its to much work, there are IT systems in place that could support the bulk of this record keeping making it easily manageable something which should be well within the scope of the ridiculously expansive and wasteful BT/ Liverpool Direct contract.

Paula said...

Well I certainly wouldn't make all training mandatory - although there already is training on climate change available which I have reported on in comments back to you earlier.

The problem with making training mandatory is that people are at different stages of expertise. I would quite happily attend training on , say, licensing law as when it changes I cannot perform my function as a local councillor if I do not know this.

I would also like to see various skills based training options offered - but as options. For example, should there be basic training on PR and journalism ( to assist those councillors without experience - and there have been such sessions as part of the councillorship) I would not attend as I teach this already and could probably run the course myself!

As it happens the Councillorship training scheme - first in the country pioneered here and accredited through a local Uni - allows elected members to study a set of modules and to collect evidence for a qualification. For some of them there are just two modules to go before they qualify. But again people need to make their own judgements about which aspects of skills/practice they want to develop depending on the roles they are either taking on or wish to play in future (I am a great believer in training for the next level not the one you are on now)

Your swipes at " politicians" or " councillors" are becoming tedious. What makes you think none of them can manage critical evaluation - I do it at work all the time!

I am happy to have debates on these issues - although the views Josie and I will be seeking initially are those using the training and those who are turning down the opportunities as I would like to discover the reaons behind this. There is always a balance when it comes to time and off the peg training does not always meet specific needs in a time efficient way.

Paula said...

Oh and while I am about it.. attendance records are kept and collated. I have published some of this information in the past.
It was when looking at this information that I realised that the two worst offenders when it came to simply not turning up at things were Labour leader Joe Anderson and former Lib Dem Beatrice Fraenkel.

Voting records, when there are card votes, are in the minutes of each relevant meeting.

Surgery frequency is listed on the website - but it is entirely up to local councillors to decide what is best for their area. When I represented speke garston I did two surgeries a week, on my own. I soon discovered that on many occasions there would be no one there.. yet lots of phone calls at other times. The way people choose to interact with councillors has changed. Most of us get most of our casework outside of surgery times.

Hospitality is recorded and the information freely available - there is a gifts register which is open to anyone to see. Declaration of interests are published and on the website (have a look at mine if you don't believe me). You appear to start from a premise that people are corrupt however. I know that not to be the case and I actually object to the implication that I am a member of a group who do not act in others best interests.

Responses to consultations - well you are aware that I have commented on this myself - these are published each time an executive board agenda item is published as consulation with the ward councillors is mandatory. Other consultation responses are published also - I noticed mine on one of the Liverpool airport ones. Huge amounts of material is published and available. People just like to pretend it is not.

Interestingly the requirements in terms of recording gifts or interests is very stringent at local level and completely lax nationally.

I am reviewing all of this as I am keen that things are not just ethically correct but seen to be so. Interestingly one of the issues is how people speak to each other ( often with a complete lack of respect) in the council chamber. This is very visible. What is not so visible however is this level of rudeness when it is in e mail form. I believe there is a huge difference between saying, for example, that a particular policy or approach is wrong and making personal comments (and that includes silly remarks about people's integrity or brains) about individuals or specific groups.

PM Swimmer said...

I'm not suggesting that all councillors need to attend all training because as you point out there are people at different levels of knowledge on a variety of issues.
However there should certainly be a requirement that councillors attain a certain level of proficency in key topics. As you say there must surely be a number of issues on which councillors cannot make an informed decision without sufficient knowledge.

I note that you didn't address the suggestion that councillors attendance at meetings and surgeries etc should be recorded and published.

As for my taking swipes at councillors i'm sorry if you feel that they are becoming tedious I will admit that as the most easily engaged of my councillors you do recive the brunt of my ire and thus I'll try to tone it down.
However I am in part more inclinded to raise my annoyance with you throught this blog becuase you seem like a decent and hardworking councillor and it riles me that you defend and support those that I know are neither.

That said critical analysis of proposals is often lacking in political ideas given media time occasionally in order to garner headlines or divert attention, recent examples could be; a new generation of 'milk bars, draining salthouse dock and moving all the fish, giant neptune statues off new brighton.

This isn't restricted to your lot and is in part a inherent flaw in a democratic system which requires parties to appeal to voters and thus attempt to manage news headlines and be seen to come up with novel ideas

PM Swimmer said...

I realise that the information about many types of attendance and hospitality is generally recorded and in theory published and available.
Yet it is not done so in a form that is readily accessible by most people. This isn't fair on voters, as whilst in an ideal world they would try and track it down through the councils IT system or submit written requests before voting they don't have the time.

Attendance and surgeries in particular could easily be collated into one sheet made available on line and posted out with the election material sent prior to local elections.

Oh and you seem to feel that pointing out that Cllrs Frankel and Andersons record is poor is a dig at my affiliations. Its not I am no card carrying new labour lacky, in fact my strongest ire is reserved for the member of parliment for Liverpool Riverside who I have had the misfortue of having to deal with a number of times and whose continued election fills me with utter despair.

as for expenses at a national level I for one am disgusted at the level of what really should be called fraud our MPs are allowed to get away with.