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The importance of investing in politicians' training and development

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LGC’s essential daily briefing.

It’s your first day in a new job. You’ve been introduced to the team, you’ve been shown around the building, and you’ve gone through the tortuous process of getting logged on to your computer.

What happens next? Not just on the first day but the first week, the first month, and beyond?

Assuming you’ve joined a good organisation you’ll be given help, advice, guidance, support and training as you become accustomed to your new role and responsibilities until you get to a point – generally between three to six months – where you start to feel comfortable in your new surroundings.

Even then, your professional development should not stop.

We expect this for ourselves as employees, so why should that not be true for politicians?

LGC reported this week that four elected mayors – Tim Bowles (Con, West of England CA), Andy Burnham (Lab, Greater Manchester CA), Ben Houchen (Con, Tees Valley CA), and Steve Rotherham (Lab, Liverpool City Region CA) – have enrolled on a city leadership programme run out of Harvard University.

The course is funded by former three-term New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg who had realised ongoing professional development was generally not available to elected politicians.

In an interview with LGC the man running the course Jorrit de Jong, lecturer in public policy and management at Harvard Kennedy School, said: “You observe that most mayors come to the job with absolutely no prior experience of running large organisations and no leadership development training…

“Not only is it a complex and demanding job but it’s also a job that you have to do in the public spotlight; it’s not easy to go on a training [programme] because it would be very hard to tell the taxpayers first of all that you’ve used taxpayer money to go on expensive training.

“Sometimes there’s this perception that because you’re the mayor you should already know [how to govern]; why did you run [for office] if not?”

The same is true of local councillors even though they are often people like you and me who just want to try to make their area a better place in which to live, work and visit.

Cheshire East Council’s leader Rachel Bailey (Con) spoke to LGC about the need for councillors to really understand their roles – something she felt had not happened on her local authority since the unitary was formed in 2009.

“We rushed into Cheshire East full of energy, drive and enthusiasm to do the right thing,” said Cllr Bailey, who had been a borough councillor since 1998 on Crewe and Nantwich BC. “I’m not convinced we paused and reflected sufficiently to think about how life is going to work in a unitary council.”

As she seeks to turn around the council currently the subject of multiple police investigations, Cllr Bailey has identified training councillors as one “big piece” of work she wants to deliver.

“I want to deliver that pause to look at how we can best serve a unitary and look at what that infamous line ‘member-led’ really means,” she told LGC.

There is certainly an argument that more time, effort, energy and resource should be invested in developing the abilities and attributes of the country’s elected members at all levels. After all the decisions they take affect the lives of millions – and they are not getting any easier. 

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