Thursday, 5 January 2017
ANTRIM and Newtownabbey Council has spent thousands of pounds over the past five years educating members of its staff, the Antrim Guardian can exclusively reveal.
Figures released through the Freedom of Information Act have confirmed that 39 employees have benefited from £50k worth of funding from the public purse during that period.
And it has also emerged that more than one in 10 of them subsequently quit - and took their qualifications with them.
At a time when students are being lumbered with unprecedented debt to complete their studies, council staff have been getting theirs courtesy of local ratepayers.
Some are clearly job specific, including Masters Degrees in Public Administration, Event Management and Environmental Health; Advanced Diplomas in Management Practice; and certificates in Community Planning and Governance.
Others, however, appear to be more general including Maths and English Essential Skills, GCSEs, a BTEC in Photography, an NVQ in Carpentry and a Foundation Degree in Horticulture.
Candidates for 'free' on the job training must be permanent employees who have satisfactorily completed their six-month probationary period - though council has accepted that 'individual circumstances will be considered' for temporary employees or those on fixed term contracts.
The successful applicants will receive full salary, with time off for study and exams, as well as financial help for travel and subsistence. Ratepayers will also pay for books, though these should be handed into council after studies are complete.
While four employees subsequently left after improving their CV, the council has stressed that in those circumstances the students had to 'repay financial assistance'.
Except that is not strictly true. If the newly qualified member of staff leaves within 12 months, yes, they must refund the costs. But if they leave it for two years, they can go scot free.
Of course it remains to be seen if others are waiting until that time elapses before making their move.
Nevertheless, the council has staunchly defended the not inconsiderable brain drain on public finances.
“Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council have a policy in place which is a key part of our framework to develop staff in line with the Investors in People Standard," explained a spokesperson.
“As an IIP organisation, the council was recognised as demonstrating a high level of investment in developing the capability of staff and creating a culture of continuous improvement - and achieved the IIP Silver Award in April 2015.
“Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council has a Learning and Development Policy and a supporting Continuous Professional Development Scheme.
“The development of all council staff is integral to the pursuit of quality, effectiveness and success.
“The council seeks to maximise individual contribution at all levels by providing appropriate opportunities for on the job development, part-time study, professional development and membership of professional organisations.
“It aims to establish and maintain a culture which values life-long learning and development amongst staff."
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