To consider the 2018/19 Annual Update from the Member Support Steering Group.
Councillor Eric Morrell, Customer and Commercial Services and People Portfolio Holder, presented the annual update from the Member Support Steering Group (MSSG), expressing appreciation for the contribution made from all political groups.
The report and Appendix A provided statistics regarding Member attendance at training sessions during 2018/19. The statistics showed that there was a low take up of training, with sessions having had, at times, to be cancelled at short notice due to the withdrawal of Members. The MSSG was, therefore, making proposals to break training down into two categories; mandatory and optional, as outlined at Appendices B and C to the report. Furthermore, in order to ensure maximum attendance at mandatory training events, it was being suggested that a reporting process for non-attendance be introduced.
Councillor Morrell pointed out that most Member training was provided in-house and he thanked officers for their efforts and patience in this regard. He drew attention to the recommendation for all Members to complete a Personal Development Plan (PDP) in order to ensure that there was an accurate picture of Member skills, knowledge and behaviours and so that a relevant learning calendar could be designed to support these needs. It was felt that PDPs would support any requests made by Members who submitted ad hoc requests for external training, ensuring value for money and also that investment in such activity was relevant and aligned to the Member’s needs to support their ward and the wider district. Council was, further, being asked to approve updates to the Member Development Strategy, attached at Appendix E to the report, in order to reflect the recommendations from the MSSG, as well as changes to officer roles since 2017.
The report made reference to Member Role Profiles which had also been reviewed by the MSSG and which were attached at Appendix D to the report. These had been updated to reflect the changing role of councillors and in order to make training and development integral to each role and reflect the commitment that the Authority made to each elected Member.
The report outlined the digital offering available to Members and attention was drawn to the fact that officers would be arranging training sessions to demonstrate the online training available. It was also stressed that officers were available to provide assistance to Members on an ongoing basis.
Councillor Morrell moved the recommendations contained in the report and was seconded by Councillor Mark Wilson.
A lengthy discussion ensued, during which strong concern was voiced with regard to the use of the word “mandatory”, which a number of Members felt should be replaced with the word “compulsory” or “obligatory”. Some Members were of the opinion that it should be their own choice as to which training they attended, as long as the need to uphold the seven principles of public life was adhered to. They were of the opinion that they had been elected to serve their communities and that, as such, they should carry out their work in the way they felt best or risk not being re-elected in the future. Attention was drawn to the fact that the report indicated that, with regard to IT, use of County Council or Members’ own devices had been due to be explored Autumn 2019. Members, however, accepted the need for those sitting on regulatory committees such as Planning and Licensing to attend training before being able to take part in those meetings where decisions were made with regard to people’s livelihoods. The need for flexibility and more than one option for each training session was raised. The potential for webinars or the uploading of recordings of training sessions on the intranet was suggested. It was further suggested that where training, such as Prevent awareness, had already been undertaken by Members in a role on another authority or body and where a record was held, there should not need to repeat that training.
Attention was drawn to the fact that officers did offer one to one training where Members were unable to attend scheduled sessions. It was generally believed that councillors should show a willingness to attend training sessions in order to be able to best serve their residents. The majority of Members stressed the significance of undertaking training on topics such as Equality and Diversity, Prevent Awareness and Human Trafficking. It was also pointed that the training lists would be reviewed over time.
The Legal, Governance and Democracy Lead Specialist (Monitoring Officer) informed Members that the recommendations had been made by the MSSG which had approved the language used within the report. She reminded Members of the quasi-judicial nature of those committees listed under “Mandatory” training and of Members’ duties under the Equality Act and the need for training on these subjects.
Councillor Tom Harvey proposed an amendment to the motion, to change the word “mandatory” to “compulsory” and for that particular training to apply only to the Audit, Licensing and Planning committees. He further wished for the inclusion of an additional, third category of “important”, to cover training such as GDPR (General Data Protection Rules) and Prevent awareness. Councillor John Holmes seconded the amendment.
Although it was agreed that the potential for remote ways of training should be examined, it was generally felt that councillors should be required to undertake the types of training shown as mandatory within the report, due to the importance of the nature of the issues. The importance of training for Members of the Human Resources Committee was also raised due to the need for that group to make decisions relating to aspects of people’s lives.
A vote was taken on the proposed amendment, which was lost.
Councillor Mark Wilson, as seconder to the substantive motion, thanked the report writer and staff who supported the cross-party MSSG. He stressed the fact that the Group worked together in the spirit of concord to examine how better Members could support their residents.
A vote was then taken on the substantive motion, and it was
RESOLVED – That
(1) the training statistics set out at Appendix A to the report be noted;
(2) the following be approved:-
(a) the mandatory training as contained in Appendix B to the report and the associated reporting mechanisms as referred to at paragraphs 3.5 to 3.6 of the report;
(b) the revisions to the Member Development Strategy, with effect from the start of this Municipal Year, as set out in Appendix E to the report; and
(c) the updated role profiles for Members as set out at Appendix D to the report; and
(3) it be confirmed that externally paid for training is supported by an up to date personal development plan (PDP) to ensure value for money.