Mark Blunden and Rebecca Seales
24 Oct 2011

http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-24001724-councils-waste-pound-500000-on-blackberry-and-key-fob-courses.do

London town halls are spending hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money on training councillors to perform tasks such as using their Blackberry phones and checking facebook.

Officials have spent nearly £500,000 in the past two years on courses that also include “key fob training” and “sex establishment licencing.”

Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that Tory-run Hillingdon paid drama school RADA £2,700 to give a Cabinet Member “executive coaching” sessions.

Twenty-nine of the 32 boroughs responded to the FOI request, admitting spending a total of £473,622 but the final cost is thought to be higher.

Tory-run Kensington and Chelsea was the biggest spender at £46,365, followed by Labour-run Camden at £37,009 and Lewisham, which spent £34,844 including £300 on a “using social media” day for one person.

Kensington and Chelsea and Labour-run Brent laid on in-house Blackberry courses for councillors, but the latter said there was “no cost” to taxpayers.

Labour-run Waltham Forest spent £16,500 on leadership courses, and Haringey sent a councillor to learn “conflict communication skills” costing £215. Ealing sent a member to Chichester for a “Fruit and Vegetables in Public Gardens” conference.

Lib-dem run Kingston-upon-Thames’s bill for courses of more than £14,000 included an internally-run “key fob training seminar.”

Tory-run Richmond council now has a sex licensing establishment expert after sending them to Cardiff on a course, part of its £31,657 training bill.

Christine Melsom, from the IsItFair council tax reform campaign, said:”Councils cannot afford to waste money on fripperies like this.” but councils defended their use of public money, pointing to the “increasingly complex and demanding” nature of councillors’ work.

A spokesman for Hillingdon said the Rada course “offered the most cost-effective option to meet development needs.”

A Richmond spokesman said of the licensing training: “The council spent £95 on a one day course, provided by the widely respected Institute of Licensing to train a committee member in the correct application of licensing law for sex establishments. It is vital members understand the law.”

A Kensington and Chelsea spokesman said: “Training is used to give councillors the skills they need to represent their communities. Councillors need to be well informed because the decisions they make impact on the lives of all the people in the borough.”

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