23rd April 2018
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Media training costs Shetland Islands Council £600 an hour

SIC communications officer Carol Anderson: There was “extremely positive feedback”.

Senior councillors have been given training on how to speak to journalists – at a cost to the council of £600 per hour.

Shetland Islands Council shelled out £8,914.04 this year for 14 hours of media training with PR firm Morrison Media. That includes travel and subsistence costs.

A total of 11 councillors took part across two sessions – lasting seven hours each – held at Lerwick Town Hall and Islesburgh Community Centre, led by former BBC journalist John Morrison.

The revelations follow a Freedom of Information (FoI) request lodged by The Shetland Times.

The council’s senior communications officer, Carol Anderson, said there was “extremely positive feedback” from the training sessions.

This is not the first time councillors have been given formal training on dealing with journalists.

According to Ms Anderson, it has been provided since at least 2007, taking place near the beginning of each council term.

In 2013, the council paid £5,176.54 for eight hours of training (and other costs) with StopPress! Media, held in the Islesburgh Community Centre. This worked out at £647 per hour.

This year the money spent on training increased by over 70 per cent due to the greater number of contact hours signed up for. The hourly rate was very similar to 2013, working out at £637 per hour.

The increased payout this year was funded by carrying forward an underspend in last year’s budget for “corporate and executive services”.

According to the council, the purpose of the training was to “equip senior councillors with the skills and information to work with journalists on TV/radio/print/online interviews, etc”.

Robbie McGregor: “I wish I had got this training 30 years ago.”

Shetland South representative and vice-chairman of the ZetTrans committee Robbie McGregor, who took part in the exercise this year, said he found the experience “very, very useful”.

Mr McGregor said: “I would not be prepared to comment on whether it’s value for money where the total cost is concerned but I would have been prepared to pay £200-£300 myself and I wish I had got this training 30 years ago.

“I have always been uncomfortable as far as live media is concerned and it’s given me a lot of confidence.”

Former councillor and ex-journalist Jonathan Wills did not take part in formal media training during his time in the council, totalling over a decade, but said it was desirable to encourage councillors to speak in plain English and to help them highlight good news.

However, he was surprised to learn of the price paid for training with Morrison Media and StopPress! Media and doubted whether it ensured value for money.

“I think the cost seems a little high,” Dr Wills said, adding: “Our council is very lucky to have a fair local news media and I would have thought some of the boys and girls in the news outlets could have given them a few hints.”

In addition to the sessions delivered by PR firms, councillors were given informal media training in 2013 and 2017 by Ms Anderson, who was Radio Shetland’s producer before joining the council’s communications department in 2012.

Jonathan Wills: “I would have thought some of the boys and girls in the news outlets could have given them a few hints.”

This consisted of one-to-one sessions, free of charge, lasting two hours. According to the council, the aim was to equip councillors with the “skills and information to work with local media, focusing on the local context”.

Ms Anderson said she continued to give such training when “required or requested”.

Members of the public who spoke to The Shetland Times were critical of the council’s spending on media training.

Campbell Jamieson, retired, from Lerwick called the formal training “a waste of money”.

He said: “I don’t think they should be paying anything. I think they [councillors] should be competent enough, the fact they have been voted in.”

Voicing similar scepticism, post office employee Mandy Stephen, from Bressay, said people wishing to be councillors should already be able to deal with journalists.

“Public speaking should be part of the criteria for the job,” she said, adding: “They should just be honest and open.”

In 2010, the Accounts Commission (the watchdog for councils) recommended that Shetland Islands Council should improve the way it communicates with the local community.

It also urged the authority to improve its relationship with the media and to recognise “the media’s legitimate interest in council matters”.

In the aftermath of those findings, the council set up its communications department.

a.mcquarrie@shetlandtimes.co.uk

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10 comments

  1. Michael Garriock

    Well, at least one Councillor is willing to stand up and say they benefitted, so its not money entirely wasted, but there may well be a message to be taken from the fact that Councillor also is the only one who gained a seat by default rather than on merit via the Ballot Box

    As the public comments included in the article already ably state, the ability to speak in a clear, concise and comprehensive manner is judged at election – if you can’t, your chances of election are drastically diminished if not eradicated, no matter how good a person you may be otherwise for the role.

    In this day and age of recurring annual “cutbacks”, there however is virtually no doubt the money should have gone towards financing something far, far more useful and beneficial to far more people.

    VFM, it most certainly is not, regardless how much or how little was spent. Its simply a luxury that cannot be afforded, and should not have happened.

    Reply
  2. Charles L. Gallagher

    Every respectable organisation that I know of has a ‘Training Budget’. If someone in HR organised a professional Media Training Co. to provide this at £600.00 per hour then I would say that they got a very, very good deal considering that most consultancy fees start about £1.2K to £1.5K plus expenses and these are at the cheaper end of the market. I for one would rather hear our Cooncilors coming on Media Interviews and being able to string a coherent sentence together instead of the usual ‘Um’s and Ar’s’ that we often get.

    For once I think that the Cooncil has spent our money wisely when compared to the waste on the ‘White Hse’.

    Reply
    • Michael Garriock

      So you’d prefer that our Councillors can ‘speak proper’ rather than an additional £9k be spent on gritting roads/pavements, providing care for the elderly, stopping piers that industry relies upon from falling in to the sea, etc etc

      Whether what they got represents excellent value for money or was a total rip off is very irrelevant. The point is, after multpile years of continual reduction in financing, and service cuts as a result, a luxury item such as this should have long since been removed from the budget entirely, and the money saved redirected towards helping maintain core services.

      Caring how well some Councillor projects themselves in a media interview is an insult to the person who lands on their arse on the road sliding on ice because the gritter’s round has been changed to save on costs, or the elderly person who has to wait an additional 10 mins for assistance as there’s now fewer staff on each shift.

      Reply
  3. Haydn Gear

    It’s only because we are in the month of December rather than April that I decided that the information about the costs involved in training councillors to speak to the media could not be an unfunny joke after all. One or two weeks at a Drama School should have secured the desired result. After all. these people are all ‘acting up’ and getting very well paid for it. Council tax payers of Shetland should be furious.

    Reply
    • David Spence

      Please do not give the Councillors any idea’s regarding acting, Haydn……….The next we’ll hear is Councillors going on trips to Hollywood and getting acting lessons, and expecting an Oscar in return to justify such expenses. lol

      Romeo, Romeo, wur is du Romeo. lol (ok, english, but you get my drift?) lol

      Reply
    • Jimmy Thomason

      “These people” are who we all voted in, just ordinary normal people putting themselves forward for a thankless job for the benefits of their community and not getting “very well paid” for it at all. My councillor said she works for the equivalent of around £3-4 per hour some weeks.

      It’s messages like yours that prevent people from putting themselves forward for these types of positions. There is a high probability that although they attended the training, the Councillors themselves wouldn’t have had a clue the cost of the training so your gripe should be directed at Officers.

      It’s Shetland, it’s not like south, “these people” are not politicians, they’re just community folk and they get far too much hassle in Shetland than is warranted, such as your moronic comments.

      Reply
      • John Tulloch

        Jimmy,

        Councillor’s basic salary = £17000 p.a. = £326 per week.

        So a councillor would have to work 80 – 110 hours per week to get down to £3 – £4 per hour. And committee chairs would have to work even longer as they’re paid extra.

        That’s very creditable, I didn’t know councillors were so dedicated? Makes you wonder how on earth they can have other jobs and run their own businesses, on top of all that?

  4. Haydn Gear

    Hey Jimmy, if your figures are correct then I apologise and direct my comments to the Officers instead. The thing is, if the latter were performing efficiently why did they proceed with such a course of action? Further to that, these ordinary people who were voted in by the people must have have considered themselves to be able to hold their own with verbal challenges from the media. If not, why did they volunteer their services? Someone once said “ if you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen”. Finally, if the Officers didn’t know the cost of the courses could it be said that their lack of information demonstrated gross incompetence? And if so, have they explained their inaction? As the Tory party has shown, it’s very easy to freely spend money that is not their own.

    Reply
  5. Haydn Gear

    Well Jimmy, John Tulloch appears to have scuppered your argument so I take back my apology. Your mathematical score seems to suggest that you’d make an ideal Councillor !! Did you just clutch a figure out of the air and hope it wouldn’t get noticed? A £17,000 basic payment with additional amounts as and when deemed to be necessary? Not bad. With that kind of income performed on a part time basis they should feel quite relaxed about dealing with awkward media types.

    Reply
  6. Haydn Gear

    So Jimmy old chap, it seems that John Tulloch’s figures have neatly kicked your views into touch. Who’s making moronic comments now then? £17,000 isn’t bad for a bit of part time work so why don’t you put yourself forward for selection? You may even get lucky and find yourself on a £600 course all paid for from the taxes garnered from Shetland folk. It’s always so easy to spend other peoples’ money.

    Reply

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