More Brent councillors attended extra training sessions during the Covid-19 pandemic, with sessions including unconscious bias and climate change.

A report presented to Brent Council’s audit and standards advisory committee yesterday (Wednesday, March 31) showed there had been a general increase in the number of councillors taking up additional training over the past year.

Sessions covering a poverty commission, the climate emergency and unconscious bias were attended by more than 40 out of 63 councillors, while at least 30 took part in courses on local government finance and customer access.

Katie Smith, head of executive and member services at Brent Council, said this was a jump from the average of around “20 to 30” people who attended non-mandatory sessions before the coronavirus outbreak.

She explained many people found it easier to take part in virtual sessions, which removed the need to travel to the civic centre.

However, she added the logistics of online meetings meant it was difficult to carry out “skills based” training, with “briefings” the more common approach, while some sessions had to be postponed.

According to the officers’ report, councillors will be offered further training in light of the pandemic, including on subjects such as “resilience” and “mental health”.

There will also be a gradual move towards inviting people back to the civic centre – Ms Smith noted that, until at least June, virtual sessions will continue with a “hybrid” option offered for those who would rather attend physically.

In terms of external training, the report also highlighted councillors’ expenses for 2019/20.

Totalling £1,439, described as “fairly low” compared with other councils, they covered travel and accommodation costs associated with the Local Government Association conference and training sessions offered by the same organisation.

The report also pointed out all councillors have completed their mandatory training set out in the latest ‘Member Development Programme’.

An obligatory course on general data protection Regulation was approved at a full council meeting in February – this is ongoing and, at the time the report was published, has been completed by 40 councillors.