Councillors need training in economics

Westmeath’s councillors are calling for training to help them with the county’s new Local Community and Economic Plan (LCEP ).

The plan, required under new Government guidelines, will be the local and economic equivalent of the County Development Plan, which focuses on land use.

The LCEP will be in place for six years when it is finalised, and initial work has begun to create a framework to identify the objectives which should be included.

The economic side of the plan will be developed through the Economic and Development SPC, and the community aspect through the Local Community Development Committee (LCDC ).

Workshops have already been held involving those in the community and voluntary sector and some of the State agencies involved.

When it is complete, the plan will come before councillors to be passed, but Cllr Mick Dollard questioned whether he and his colleagues had the appropriate skill set.

“This is a new venture,” he said, and pointed out that there is regularly national criticism of the Dáil and Seanad because of the lack of professional expertise among those elected members.

“Are we trained to be able to make decisions like this? I don’t feel well enough trained and briefed to make decisions regarding economic and community development,” he said, calling for in-house training to be provided to councillors.

“It’s only right if we’re expected to make decisions that we have the training and expertise,” he said, and Cllr Frankie Keena agreed.

He said councillors need direction, particularly in working with community groups who will be concerned about potential deadlines and their own projects.

While the document only provides the framework and guidelines for projects, and doesn’t specify what projects will be completed in a given timeframe, Cllr John Dolan said councillors will have to be proactive in explaining the plan to community groups.

Cllr Una D’Arcy, who has received training in rural and community development, said she’s “absolutely of the opinion that people require training”, because serious economic background is required for the economic models these plans use.

Ironically, former councillor Colm Arthur had been conferred with a university qualification in economics around the time he lost his seat.

CEO Pat Gallagher said the council will organise training for councillors relating to their role in the plan, but insisited that there is considerable expertise in the county and this has been co-opted onto a steering group which includes the Local Enterprise Office (LEO ), the community and voluntary sector, the Education and Training Board and others.

However, Cllr D’Arcy suggested that the council also look at what other local authorities are doing.

Director of services Hugh O’Reilly confirmed that the plan doesn’t get into the microdetail of what projects go ahead, but rather sets out the objectives.

Delivery will take place through community development programmes, he said.

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