Charter for member development

South Somerset District Council's thorough councillor development system has put it straight to the top of the list of the best training councils being the first council in the South West region to make the grade.

Councils across England have been applying for the "Charter for Member Development" - a quality mark similar to the "Investors in People" recognition - and after providing detailed written evidence and undergoing a day of in-depth interviews South Somerset District Council received the good news that it had been awarded the distinction.

Inspectors were impressed by how well the council made provision for councillors who had family and work commitments, and how many varied training opportunities were made available to them.

Jo Gale, Councillor Training Officer at South Somerset District Council says, "An important aspect of our councillor training is that people with little or no experience of local government are able to become a fully functioning councillor who is confident of their community role.

"The Charter Inspectors looked at how family friendly our policies are, whether we help councillors to fit their role around other commitments, and whether our councillors' capabilities are increased by our training. It is about making sure councillors are able to manage large budgets, giving them the knowledge needed to take difficult decisions for their communities, balancing conflicting demands, making them aware of political differences and showing them how to work with each other for the benefit of local communities.

"Our 60 councillors go out into the community taking a leadership role. They are involved in hundreds of projects and have even been able to allocate financial support through their individual budgets that we have been piloting this year. I am so pleased that their willingness to learn and develop in order to serve their community have been recognised."

24 other South West councils are currently trying to gain the accreditation, which is run by the Government's Improvement and Development Agency (IdeA.)

Cllr Paull Robathan, South Somerset's Portfolio Holder for Support Services says, "Development means a mix of training, on the job experience and learning new ways of working, and this is what out councillors receive. What is most important is that we have been out delivering all the good things that we have learnt, and it is those things that make the difference to local people's lives.

"The message for me is that we are the first of many because of our long history and commitment to the member development strategy (since 2001)."

Phil Dolan, South Somerset District Council's chief executive said "I am obviously delighted for staff and councillors that we are the first in the South West to gain this tremendous accolade but let's not forget the reality of what this means; our councillors get some of the best training and development opportunities in local government for the sole purpose of better serving our residents. That's the real good news".