MID Devon councillors are being offered the opportunity of leadership training at a residential course in the Midlands costing more than £1,000 a head.
At a time when the council says it is facing its toughest financial challenge in years, an e-mail has been sent to members of the council advertising a series of events run by quango the Local Government Association.
The council has been criticised by pressure group The Taxpayer’s Alliance which says it is “astonishing” to consider sending councillors on such courses at the current time.
The association, which represents town halls across the county, runs a series of events all based at the Warwick Conference Centre in Coventry which offers bed and breakfast accommodation from £78 a night. Among the events it has planned in the next four months are a free two-day ‘cultural academy’ for portfolio holders delivered in conjunction with the Arts Council and a sports and leisure service programme which aims to help individuals “lead transformational change” to “embed a sporting legacy” from the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The arts event also talks about benefits to the local population, claiming it can help councillors consider how to use cultural services to “improve localities and outcomes for their communities.” and understand the extent of “transformation” required in...cultural services within councils.”
Also on offer is a Young Councillors Weekender at the same venue next month.
The promotional material describes the event as a “must for young councillors, aged 40 and under, who are interested in building their knowledge, skills and councillor network.” The £100-a-person event will include workshops on ‘finding your political voice’ and ‘perception management for councillors’.
It is unclear how many – if any – councillors from Mid Devon will be looking to enrol on the courses, but they are open to more than a quarter of the 42 members on the authority.
The LGA’s flagship Leadership Academy course is not only open to leaders of councils, but also deputy leaders, leaders of political groups, portfolio holders, scrutiny chairs and committee chairs and opposition spokespeople.
The accredited course is based on three two-day residential modules in Coventry costs £1,000. for the first person from an authority to book with the cost for each subsequent place rising to £1,250. The fee covers accommodation, meals, refreshments, material and tuition.
The council has previously worked with the Leadership Academy, in 2008-09 it agreed to spend £1,500 on academy courses for senior leadership as part of an improvement plan called Moving Forward Together, which aimed to help the council move out of Voluntary Engagement. After a council financial crisis seven years ago saw 50 jobs shed at Phoenix House and cost-cutting measures introduced, a Government appointee had to be brought in to work alongside top council staff.
Cllr Neal Davey, portfolio holder for finance, was among those who took advantage to take part in a course at that time.
He said: “I did a course three or four years ago and found it useful to meet other councillors from all across the country. They put you through your paces during the course and as I did it when the council was still in voluntary engagement, it didn’t actually cost the district council much.
Cllr Davey said he was not aware whether any of his cabinet colleagues were planning to attend this year’s set of courses.
Eleanor McGrath, campaign manager of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said Mid Devon residents would be “angered” that the council was considering using their hard-earned cash to send councillors on these courses at a cost potentially running into thousands.
She said: “At a time when the council is having to make necessary cutbacks, it is astonishing that anyone thinks that these kinds of conferences and training courses should be a priority.
“Local authorities need to get a grip on this sort of unnecessary spending and make sure that they are concentrating on delivering core frontline services and providing best value for taxpayers’ cash, particularly when budgets are so tight.”