A raft of newly elected councillors are settling in at town halls up and down the country, writes the LGiU’s learning and development manager Alan Waters.
Brandon Lewis, formerly a minister at Communities and Local Government, famously (or infamously) described councillors as “ volunteers” and used this as an argument for closing their access to Local Government Pension Scheme.
Volunteering, of course, requires skills and commitment and one must concede that individuals do volunteer to put themselves forward to become councillors – but it was hardly surprising that elected members across all parties felt aggrieved Brandon Lewis’s characterisation of their role.
Local government has had a tough time over the past few years and one must not assume that people will continue to come forward in sufficient numbers to stand for elected office.
One assurance all potential candidates and existing councillors need is that they will get the training and personal development they need to take on responsibility for multi- million pound budgets and a wide range of statutory and discretionary services.
There is a school of thought that training for councillors should be designed around responding to the latest initiatives flowing out of Whitehall.
As an organisation committed to ‘local’ government, this is not a view that we share. The focus should be the councillor as local politician working in a political environment. Programmes, whether skills training for chairing meetings, public speaking or mastering the basics of local government finance need to be shaped around the personal and political needs of the councillor.
We understand the political environment in which elected members have to work – not just in the formal settings of council chamber and committee rooms but also the internal dynamics of the political group. We look at the role of the councillor in the round – at the complex balancing act requiring them to be effective community leaders, not just in their own patch but also at the strategic level: and not forgetting the need to develop personal resilience (including space for a life outside of politics) to deal with what remains one of the most stimulating, rewarding but often stressful jobs in British democracy.