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Councils should consider investing more in their elected members' training to help them fulfil their new roles, a n...
Councils should consider investing more in their elected members' training to help them fulfil their new roles, a new Audit Commission paper out today says.

To Whom Much is Given is the second in a series of three discussion papers from the commission, to help inform councils as they debate and begin to implement new constitutional arrangements, such as executive leaders with cabinet or directly elected mayors.

The changes under the Local Government Act 2000, aim to make local authorities more accountable by splitting councillors into executive and scrutiny roles. New models could stimulate local government and bring greater connection with local people - but key questions about members' new roles should be looked at, including giving all members the resources to do the job properly.

Although the changes are expected to make councils less political party-driven, traditional loyalties will remain strong and could dampen scrutiny challenges. Similarly, officer unity and concern about their careers has the potential to reduce challenge to the executive, the commission says.

The Audit Commission stresses that without self-challenge, 'councils are unlikely to achieve the radical changes in performance and civic stature.'

To Whom Much is Given underlines the theme of this discussion series: all change must take into account the principles of good corporate governance: 'accountability, integrity, openness and inclusivity in systems that are effective and up to date'.

Earlier this month the Audit Commission published We Hold These Truths to be Self-Evident, a paper setting out some serious questions for councils when setting up their new arrangement, Modernisation through the prism, a set of diagnostic questions for councils, and councils 'through the looking glass', a briefing for members. A further paper on the role of officers, May You Live in Interesting Times, will follow.

The papers' author Bob Chilton, said:

'Splitting councillors into the executive and scrutiny roles could bring a new dynamism to councils and re-connect them with their local community. But members must have the training and resources to carry out their new roles effectively, including support from officers. Councils need to think now about how they will support all members and their new accountabilities. There are some tough questions councils must confront, if their new relationships are to help revitalise local democracy.'

Controller of the Audit Commission, Andrew Foster, said:

'This is a prime opportunity for councils to modernise their governance and give local democracy a shot in the arm. The Audit Commission is wholly behind councils' efforts. I am sure these papers will provide them with invaluable food for thought as they map their way forward.'

To Whom Much is Given - New Ways of Working for Councillors Following Political Restructuring is available from Audit Commission Publications on 0800 502030, priced£15.

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