We work across local government to provide a wide ranging training and development offer for councils and councillors.
We are able to offer a comprehensive offer to councils on training and development – mainly focused on members, but also engaging with officers and their needs – this is in additional to our broader support offer to local councils.
This page provides a flavour of the kinds of services we provide, but to discuss your needs in detail please contact Ian Parry on firstname.lastname@example.org.
The pandemic placed real pressure on councillors, and on the councillor role. The cost of living crisis means that, if anything, those pressures have increased. Scrutiny provides a key way for members to understand and challenge councils’ support to local people. To make the most of scrutiny, councillors need high quality, independently-led training.
What kind of topics do we cover?
The following is just an example of the kinds of training we can provide:
- Scrutiny essentials: A short, focused session (usually around 90 minutes) providing an overview of scrutiny, its functions and its powers. Ideal for member induction, this session is designed to provide an authoritative introduction to the function. Subjects covered include scrutiny’s legal powers (where relevant, including health scrutiny), access to information, work programming and the development of recommendations. As with all of our work, the session also highlights the importance of organisational and political culture as a component of successful scrutiny. These snappy and engaging sessions are well suited to an audience exclusively comprised of new members, or a mixed audience incorporating members of longer standing who may need a refresher. We are also able to offer similar sessions for executive-side officers, to introduce scrutiny and members’ roles to those who may not be familiar with the political dynamics of scrutiny in the life of an authority;
- Finance essentials. Supporting members to understand and tackle their duties around financial oversight and scrutiny, this can be delivered as a single standalone session or two, or three, linked seminars – depending on the level of need. Topics covered include local authority finance in general, scrutiny’s approach to in-year review of financial performance, the role of scrutiny in budget development and the medium term financial strategy, and scrutiny’s relationship with the council’s Audit Committee. Grant Thornton’s September 2022 report, “Lessons from recent public interest reports” highlights the risks of weakness in governance around financial management, making more urgent the need to address member knowledge and skills in this area. Training on this subject is based, in part, on CfGS’s “Financial scrutiny practice guide”, published in 2021. Work in this area can have a practical flavour – we have
- Understanding performance, finance and risk information. Drawing in some content from the “finance essentials” session described above, seminars and workshops on this subject are focused on supporting members to gain a better understanding of how data and evidence can be used to support high quality scrutiny work. An important part of this is access to information – ensuring that members are aware of their rights and know how to get hold of the right information, at the right time. Equally important though is how that information is used – ensuring that members have the skills needed to understand what data tells them. CfGS’s strong view is that performance, finance and risk information – alongside other data – is best used to prioritise work rather than being treated as something to periodically report to committee – that issues emerging from members’ continued oversight of this data can be used to escalate individual issues, where necessary, to committee for public debate, discussion and decision. Training on this subject reflects this view, incorporating practical exercises and introducing ways to use data to support effective work programming;
- Questioning skills. We are able to introduce members to the skills and techniques that make for effective questioning, and to support the development of councillors (including chairs) who, though already skilled, would value the opportunity to refresh and refine their capabilities. Good questioning skills are not just about the way questions are worded and phrased – although this is important. What is crucial is the need for preparation, and clarity over objectives – and the extent to which a committee is able to work as a team, using questioning to understand and uncover the truth;
- Work programming. Selecting the right topics, and scrutinising them at the right time and in the right way, is crucial to being able to have the greatest impact. Sessions on work programming explore what effective scrutiny work looks like, and tracks back from that to understand what the building blocks are. As well as the design of individual projects, sessions on this subject reflect on bigger issues about how members can be sure they are looking at the right things – including the real risk that things “fall between the gaps”, often leading to the associated risks of trying to look at everything (and failing).
While the bulk of the training we provide is for English councils, we continue to provide support to authorities in other UK jurisdictions, and also provide training services to English combined authorities.
We also offer general training courses to a wider range of councils through our support to regional scrutiny networks in England. A full list of those courses and information on how to book on will be uploaded to the website in early October 2022.
How do we work?
The training sessions we design and deliver are all bespoke. They are based on material which has been prepared using CfGS’s significant research base and expertise on council governance and scrutiny, but individual councils’ needs and circumstances are taken into account in the design of all sessions to ensure that this national material can be interpreted in a way that has real local salience.
We, and the Associates with whom we work to deliver some of our training, take particular care in the design and planning of sessions – speaking to members and officers to ensure that needs are fully understood and acted on. We want to ensure that we deliver training that doesn’t just stay in the training room, but that provides practical resources that people can use in their authorities.
Sessions are designed with interactivity at the core – learning through discussion is a focus. Rather than simply circulating a slide deck after the session, usually we will offer to produce a note which combines a summary of the material we have delivered with a precis of some of the matters discussed.
What do we charge?
We want to be as transparent as possible about the fees we charge, but because much of what we do is bespoke, charges will often vary according to councils’ needs and circumstances. Charges have to take into account preparation time, and time (where necessary) writing sessions up after they’ve happened. As a rule of thumb you can expect that a one off training session delivered in person will cost around £1,500, with remote sessions costing a little less. For multiple training sessions, the cost per session would obviously be lower, as the amount of preparation needed does not increase in direct proportion to the number of sessions.
We work closely with the LGA, who fund us in a way that allows us to provide certain services and support to English councils for free.
How can you find out more?
You can contact Ed Hammond, our Acting Chief Executive at email@example.com or Ian Parry our Principal Governance Consultant at firstname.lastname@example.org.