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Watford Council spends nearly £30k training staff
Watford spends three times as much training its politicians as neighbouring council Three Rivers.
Figures released by the authorities showed Watford spent £29,438 training councillors on everything from social media, speed reading and how to be a “frontline councillor” compared to Three Rivers, which spent £8,220.
As well as session training councillors for their duties for various committees, Watford’s figures showed politicians also attended seminars at taxpayers’ expense on other items such as the police reforms and the resettling of convicts. They also attended local government conferences.
Watford’s elected mayor, Dorothy Thornhill has defended the costs, saying: “It’s really important to train councillors and I’m shocked other people aren’t training their councillors as much.
“We are assiduous in training our councillors and I have no problem equipping them to do a good job for residents.”
Among Watford’s highest spend was at the Local Government Association (LGA) conference, which Mayor Thornhill and her husband, Councillor Iain Sharpe, attended in 2010 and 2011. This raked up a bill of £2,028.
The following year Mayor Thornhill and Councillor Sharpe were joined by Liberal Democrat Rabi Martins at the LGA conference, incurring a cost of £1,485.
Mayor Thornhill added: “I would say councils do residents a disservice if they choose not to send representatives to the LGA. It’s so helpful because councillors from all over the country attend.”
She added: “We are a major town facing important changes and we want councillors to be competent and be able to deal with difficult situations.”
Figures showed Watford Liberal Democrat councillor and cabinet member of finance Mark Watkin attended £530 of individual training sessions, including sessions on speed reading and retention, a social networking “masterclass” and public speaking.
Mayor Thornhill defended the expenditure, saying: “Councillor Watkin is equipped to do his job and when I was first elected, I went on these courses.
“If you are in the spotlight, it’s really important you don’t let the town down and that you come across as competent. It’s important he feels he can speak with confidence and put the message across.”
Watford taxpayers also spent £249 sending independent councillor Malcolm Meerabux on seminars entitled “The Future of Policing” and “The Frontline Councillor – Skills for Community Leadership in a Time of Change”.
The council also spent £389 sending Liberal Democrat councillor Kelly McLeod on a seminar on “Successful Employment and the Resettlement of Offenders” and Labour councillor Jackie Connal on a social media skills course.
Dacorum Borough Council spent £24,137 and Hertsmere Borough Council’s total expenditure on council training costs was £10,643.
Hertsmere Borough Council spokesman Cath Shepherd said: “Members are clearly very conscious of the current financial restraints, and careful consideration is given to all expenditure.
“However, it is also important that they are kept updated with changes in legislation, such as the Localism Act which came into force in November 2011, to ensure clarity regarding their responsibilities and to assist them in decision-making.”
Three Rivers council solicitor Jane Redman said: “We have saved £2.5 million through efficiency gains and our commitment to cost efficiency includes the training of councillors, which is essential for ensuring the highest standards.”
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