IDeA OFFERS FOURTH COURSE FOR POLITICAL SUPPORT STAFF

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The IDeA has announced plans for a fourth training course for political support staff.

The course is designed for political support staff to discuss, encourage and share best practice in a supportive cross-party environment.

It will be held on the 21st and 22nd October 2009 at the Warwick Conference Centre, Coventry.

The course costs £500 plus VAT, which includes accommodation for one night, meals and refreshments and all programme materials. Participants require the approval of their local authority.

For further details please contact Grace Collins by telephone on 020 7296 6563, or by email at grace.collins@idea.gov.uk.

More information be viewed by clicking here.

SUPPORT TO POLITICAL GROUPS: SPIN OR SUBSTANCE?

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The Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) is holding a good practice seminar on Tuesday 5th May entitled, “Support to political groups: spin or substance?”

According to the LGiU, the majority of councillors say that it is the political element of their work that encourages them to stand for election and it drives forward much of their activities once they are elected. 

The LGIU believes the fact that 96 per cent of local politicians belong to a political party affects every part of council leadership and business.  How the council operates in this political environment helps determine its success.

The LGiU has found that when asked what support most councillors would put at the top of their wish list a political assistant is always a high priority.  However, fewer than 100 councils employ political assistants.  In the current climate of tight financial budgets councils want to be sure that they are offering the support members want and helps them best.

The seminar will:

  • explore how councils can provide support to political groups
  • demystify the many different ways in which support to political groups can work
  • look closely at what it is that political assistants can and can’t do
  • consider the advantages and disadvantages of dedicated group officers as part of other support councils may give to their elected councillors
  • question whether political group support adds value to the work that the council does
  • look at how officers supporting the political groups work with other council officers

Speakers at the event will include CPON’s Chairman, Richard Ashton, and Cllr. Barry Macleod-Cullinane, Political Advisor to the London Councils’ Conservative Group and Portfolio Holder for Adults & Housing, London Borough of Harrow.

Richard Ashton said, “I am very much looking forward to demystifying the role of political assistants for those attending the seminar, and extolling the virtues of our work and the benefits to all concerned in local government.”

More details can be found here.

IDeA OFFERS NEW COURSE FOR POLITICAL SUPPORT STAFF

As more councils appoint political support staff to work with their Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Independent councillors, different ways of doing the job are emerging.

This new programme for political support staff is designed to discuss, encourage and share best practice in a supportive cross-party environment.

Programme 3
Dates: 25-26 February 2009
Venue: Warwick Conference Centre, Coventry

The key objectives of the two-day residential programme are to:

  • create a dynamic learning and networking community of political assistants from across the country
  • develop a greater mutual understanding of how political support staff can support councillors in their democratic roles
  • gain an understanding of different personality types and styles and how they influence relationships with councillors, council staff and citizens
  • develop a greater knowledge and understanding of local government including its national and regional structures and its funding
  • explore how different political structures and council management arrangements affect the work of political assistants
  • develop communication and media handling skills
  • learn from peers, action learning and experts and consider future career opportunities.

Fees for the political support staff programme are £500 plus VAT.

This includes accommodation for one night, meals and refreshments and all programme materials. Participants require the approval of their authority

For further details please contact Grace Collins by telephone on 020 7296 6563, or by  email at grace.collins@idea.gov.uk

“GIVING ASSISTANCE TO THE ASSISTANTS”

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: grace.collins@idea.gov.uk

“BRIDGING THE GAP”

LG First reports on the IDeA‘s new course to help local authorities and political assistants get the best out of their role.

The article, entitled “Bridging the gap” and written by the IDeA’s Pascoe Sawyers, claims the role of political assistants can be a useful and important one, and is one of the ways in which the Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA), part of the LGA group, is encouraging councils to support their elected members. Currently less than 100 councils employ political assistants, but providing this role is something councils might want to consider when thinking about how they can improve elected member support. The IDeA has extended its successful Leadership Academy to include a training programme for political assistants. It is the first time the Academy has targeted a course to include an officer role.

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The move is one of the ways the IDeA is responding to recommendations made by last year’s councillors’ commission, led by Dr Jane Roberts, a former leader of Camden council. It looked at the incentives and barriers to serving on councils, and made 61 recommendations to the government – some of which look at how councils could better support their elected members.

When used correctly, the role of a political assistant can be a good way of supporting councillors. They provide political support and advice around strategy and policy. They do research and gather information for politicians to use in their campaigns. Sometimes they take a lead on media issues, and the role always involves being a conduit to other officers in the council. Some get involved in case work or manage a support team, while some play a group organising role.

But most councils currently do not employ political assistants and those which do sometimes don’t know how to make the best use of them. Feedback from political assistants at sessions the IDeA ran at the recent party spring conferences suggests that there are a number of other challenges they face in trying to carry out an effective role.

“Bridging the gap between your role as an employee of the council, and an open supporter of a political group is one of the major difficulties for me,” was a view expressed by one political assistant, but shared by many others.

However, another political assistant was very keen to point out a more positive dimension to this bridging role, “In my experience, when it works well, by having a foot in both camps political assistants can add real value to the process of building relationships between councillors and senior officers. We are often seen as a sounding board because we can usually see things from both perspectives.”

The Leadership Academy programme will provide political assistants with a networking opportunity to enable them to share thoughts on how to deal with some of these challenges and learn from each other. The two-day course also aims to teach an understanding of the personality styles of politicians in order to work with them effectively, as well as giving tips on communicating with council staff and the general public. An overview of the way local government is structured and financed, and media skills are also covered. There are opportunities for group work with a politician where people can bring up issues they may find difficult to raise in their own council.

The first course last April filled immediately, showing the demand for the training and support of these officers. Another course has been scheduled for 21-22 October. For more information telephone Grace Collins on 020 7296 6563 or email grace.collins@idea.gov.uk

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