This year marks 20 years since the Local Government Association (LGA) began to invest significantly in developing political leadership. When these political leadership programmes started, cynics suggested it would never last. Councillors would never attend, and if they did, would just argue with each other.
Well, thousands of councillors have proved those cynics wrong. The programmes, including the Leadership Academy and Next Generation, have all prospered. Councillors aren’t like MPs, in that they are willing to learn from each other and take advice from experts and professional trainers.
The process has been a success because the LGA took it seriously and ensured it received high priority in terms of staffing and resources – often with considerable pressure on its finances.
The star turn throughout has been Grace Collins, who has become a legend to generations of councillors and a ‘honorary prof’ at the University of Warwick.
More significantly, it is the four political offices at the LGA who have ensured consistent political support and the effective ‘hidden wiring’ to identify the local talent among their councillor population and provide the vital follow-up and mentoring.
As Christopher Wren remarked about St Paul’s Cathedral: ‘If you want to see my achievements, look around you’.
The work of the political offices has seen a remarkable group of capable local leaders emerge, including Lyne Doherty in West Berkshire, Ruth Dombey in Sutton, Nesil Caliskan in Enfield and Hannah Dalton in Epsom & Ewell BC. They are a small number of those who have benefitted in particular from the Next Generation programme.
We all know that change is coming to politics. We must ensure that local communities have capable leaders who can articulate their needs and potential to a wide variety of partners and funders at a local and national level.
That requires vision and commitment and it is to the credit of the LGA and its political offices that they have maintained the discipline and sense of purpose to see this project through over the last two decades – and raises a few questions about how the main political parties have supported their own local councillors.
Paul Wheeler is director of the Political Skills Forum and writes on local politics