New training for South Tyneside councillors after concerns about 'deficiencies'
A training package has been developed for new councillors in South Tyneside following concerns about “deficiencies in the old regime”.
The induction course aims to prepare new councillors for civic life and will be put to the test immediately after the May elections this year.
All newly elected members will be invited to take part in four modules over a four-to-six week period, covering a range of issues.
This ranges from administrative functions, South Tyneside Council’s code of conduct, constitution and register of interests, to the use of allowances, ICT, social media and the role of key officers and trade unions.
The training refresh follows feedback from new and experienced borough councillors and falls against a backdrop of increasing numbers of complaints about elected members’ conduct.
A total of 22 complaints are under formal investigation according to the latest data and in recent weeks, a further three complaints progressed to formal hearings.
But legal chiefs have stressed the new induction will bring benefits by ‘staggering’ information for new councillors, rather than providing it all at once.
“Officers have worked on a revised pack and induction programme to be issued to new councillors upon their election,” said John Rumney, acting head of legal services and deputy monitoring officer.
“This was in response to some perceived deficiencies in the old regime expressed by both old and new members.
“The proposal is to implement a four-stage induction programme and to move away from the previous practice which appears to have included the provision of an awful lot of paperwork to a new elected member all at once.
“It’s considered that a staggered staged approach would be preferred with each of the four stages including contact which builds on the previous stage.”
The council officer was speaking at a Standards Committee on March 22, which was held via videolink and broadcast on YouTube.
Councillors heard that the induction programme was originally developed for the May 2020 elections before they were postponed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The training also includes information about committees, the way the council operates and provides an opportunity for new members to ask questions.
Mr Rumney added: “I think it would be fair to say that someone coming into the council who has never been a councillor before, that transition will still be quite a big one.
“But it’s felt that this approach to an induction of a new member may well be a little more effective than may previously had been the case.”
During discussion, several members of the Standards Committee said it was the responsibility of councillors to take up the offer of training.
Councillor Moira Smith added: “I think this is quite a lot of information for people to take in but I think that it should be noted that it’s the councillor’s responsibility to attend these training sessions and to take in what is said.
“We don’t want new members or old members coming along at a future date and saying I wasn’t given enough training, because there is quite a lot of training in here.”
According to a report prepared for the committee, “additional personalised training” can also be provided following the four modules.