The lack of professional support for political assistants is the focus of an article by LocalGov, published today.
“Giving assistance to assistants“ notes that last year’s Councillors’ Commission urged local authorities to provide more help and encouragement to councillors, but asks, ”…who will support the helpers and encouragers?”
Local Gov reports that whilst a growing number of local authorities now employ political assistants, the majority still don’t have such roles.
The IDeA is therefore running a new intiative aimed at raising the profile “…of this vital, but under-used post”.
One of the political assistants involved in the intiative is CPON’s Richard Coates, who is currently employed as the Political Assistant to the Conservative Leader of Gloucestershire County Council.
Richard said, “The job has changed a lot because we were in opposition for three years and we have been in administration since 2005. It’s like I have had two different jobs.”
He describes his role as supporting members, research briefings for members and working on long-term policy formation, but he admits ‘political restrictions’ are a ‘bug bear’ for political assistants and can hamper career progression.
Pascoe Sawyers, IDeA’s programme manager, said, “I run a leadership programme to encourage councillors to do a better job, so it seemed a logical step to do one for political assistants.’
The first event was held in April, and Mr Sawyers says it soon became clear there was a tremendous variation in what the term ‘political assistant’ actually meant.
“Once I started, one of the things which came out was there is a huge difference in the role,” he said. “Being a political assistant for “X” council is not the same of being a political assistant for “Y” council. Some of them are seen as glorified PAs, but others run the party group.”
Mr Sawyers says the assistants who came from councils all over the country and from different political backgrounds all benefitted from a chance to talk to each other and share experiences.
“The whole point of the leadership academy is to get people from different backgrounds, different parties and different areas and cross fertilise ideas,” he said.
One important issue for them was to the look at the legal issues around the role. “There are a lot of grey areas in terms of the nature of the role,” added Mr Sawyers.
The IDeA’s political assistants’ course will take place on the 21st and 22nd October.
For more information contact Grace Collins on 020 7296 6563, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org