Monday, February 23, 2009

South West Charter for Member Development

South West Charter for Member Development
Hilton Hotel, Swindon
February 27th 2009

The Charter for Member Development requires councils to ensure that their elected representatives are able to manage large budgets, take difficult decisions for their communities with the necessary knowledge, balance conflicting demands, be aware of political differences and to show an ability to accommodate each other for the benefit of local communities. It is about developing and training councillors to a ‘benchmark level’.

Development means a mix of training, on the job experience and learning new ways of working, and this is what our councillors receive at South Somerset. What is most important is that we have been out delivering all the good things that we have learnt, and it is those things that make the difference to local people’s lives.

The message for me is that we were the first of many in the South West because of our long history of commitment to the member development philosophy.

Phil Dolan, Chief Executive of South Somerset District Council said "I am obviously delighted for staff and councillors that we are the first in the South West to gain this tremendous accolade but let’s not forget the reality of what this means; our councillors get some of the best training and development opportunities in local government for the sole purpose of better serving our residents. That’s the real good news”.

At South Somerset the induction process for new members starts even before the election with a Becoming a Councillor booklet available on line and sent to all candidates. Throughout the year events for young people and community visits by the Democratic Services team offer every elector the chance to appreciate the value of becoming a Councillor. Whether people start as a Parish Councillor or Town Councillor and then stand for election at District or County Council the underlying issues are the same, a need for true altruistic detachment, a recognition that there will be a lot of hard work, late evenings and short weekends and acceptance that being in the public eye means less privacy and often some interruption of 'normal' life.

After the election a comprehensive series of information and education training sessions on all areas of councillor business is organised. These cover everything from how to participate positively in meetings, make presentations, as well as the more typical financial regulation and planning training. Every new Councillor turned up after the 2007 elections, and some of those re-elected joined in as well for a refresher. One of the most interesting parts of the training is a bus tour of the District - I for one was quite daunted by the area covered by South Somerset and the totally different environments and communities we support.

South Somerset District Council’s commitment to joint development with partner organisations is actively demonstrated through seminars and training sessions – out of 49 development opportunities in a five-month period, 31 were provided externally. Our internal courses are open to other Councils when we can, and we look for ways to minimise cost while maximising the quality of training and support we give each Councillor.

Lyn Lockyer, Member Development Officer at South Somerset District Council says, “An important aspect of our councillor training is that people with little or no experience of local government are able to become a fully functioning councillor who is confident of their community role.

“Our 60 councillors go out into the community, getting involved in things, taking a leadership role. Last year we also held a Beacon event and many members came from far and wide to learn from their example. I am so pleased that their efforts to learn and develop have been recognised.”

Lyn must be congratulated for being one of the main reasons South Somerset's scheme has been so effective. Her boundless enthusiasm and commitment is known and admired by everyone.

Member Development is a perfect partner for officer development. Most of our middle managers have attended management diploma courses specifically designed for South Somerset and a number are continuing on to even higher qualification levels. Matching the officer and member development has lead to even more informed debate from all quarters with a wide range of members from all parties being involved in detailed budget examination through the review and scrutiny process.

Leadership is a vital part of Council group work. The leaders of both the party in control and the main opposition have attended the Leadership Academy and several councillors have achieved BTEC qualifications - some of them are here today to receive them.

One final aspect to discuss is mentoring. New councillors, whether young or old, and existing councillors taking on new responsibilities often welcome support from someone with specific expertise. Whether this is a local arrangement or through the IDeA peer mentor scheme there are great benefits to be had for both the Councillor and mentor.

I am delighted to be able to receive the Member Charter on behalf of South Somerset, but saddened by the reason our Leader and others cannot attend. Today is the funeral of Alan Cornelius who stood down in 2007 after 58 years of being a Councillor. Alderman Cornelius was the epitome of Councillors - unstoppable when working on behalf of a constituent, impartial and objective when chairing the Regulation Committee and unfailingly polite and supportive of officers. We will all miss him enormously and I would like to dedicate our award to Alan's memory as an example to us all.

Paull Robathan

Councillor Paull Robathan is ward member for South Petherton on South Somerset District Council. A former Leader of the Council Paull was Portfolio Holder for Finance and Member Development when South Somerset were assessed for the Charter. He is Chairman of the Local Strategic Partnership, Board member of Somerset Waste Partnership, a Governor of Taunton and Somerset NHS Foundation Trust and a member of the Raglan Housing Regional Committee.