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Robin de Peyer
Monday, February 4, 2013
Public speaking lessons for elected members of cash-strapped Tower Hamlets Council have been costing the taxpayer thousands of pounds, it has emerged.
Councillors received lessons from external coaches – including from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art - at a cost of almost £5,500 since 2004.
Training is provided as a matter of course for members who accept ceremonial roles, with bills for some coaching sessions running to almost £2,000.
The figures, released following a Freedom of Information request, have triggered criticism as the Town Hall seeks £100million in savings over four years.
Matthew Sinclair, who is chief executive of low tax campaign group the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: “Councillors simply cannot justify landing local residents with a bill for thousands of pounds to pay for this top notch speaking training.
“Those chairing meetings should have enough experience of watching others fulfil the role to know what to do.”
At least three councillors were given individual training in connection with their roles as Speaker or Mayor. All those named are from the Labour group, from which the Speaker has been chosen in recent years because of its majority in the council chamber.
In 2010 the Town Hall shelled out almost £2,000 for a group training session on “effective chairing skills” for 11 councillors.
But several members elected to receive internal training instead, at no cost to the public purse.
Labour group leader Cllr Joshua Peck said alternative options for training should be explored in future to save money.
“It is not right that public money has been wasted in this way”, he said.
“I would like to thank the East London Advertiser for bringing this to our attention and to assure residents that the Council must not spend these staggering amounts of public money on expensive training.”
But a council spokesperson defended the coaching, and said: “It is widely accepted across local government that providing elected members with relevant training is a good thing, equipping them fully to represent their constituents and achieve maximum value for local residents.”