Gloucestershire County Council: Improving councillor personal safety through training and development

In response to recent high-profile violence and aggression incidents towards publicly elected officials, Gloucestershire County Council reviewed and redesigned the personal safety approach, training and development offered to local councillors.

In response to recent high-profile violence and aggression incidents towards publicly elected officials, Gloucestershire County Council reviewed and redesigned the personal safety approach, training and development offered to local councillors, focusing on excellent quality practical advice alongside local and regional considerations.

The challenge:

Gloucestershire County Council provides services to a predominantly rural community in the South West of England. The geographic region is vast and varied, spanning from part of the Cotswold Hills to the valley of the River Severn and encompassing the Forest of Dean.

This varied rural setting presents unique safety challenges. The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs recently stated that "rangers in protected landscapes have observed increased visitor numbers and an increase in anti-social and hostile behaviour". Councillors are also affected by this increased risk profile, as their activities often take place in remote settings far from CCTV coverage, foot traffic and mobile telephone signal. This digital isolation limits the basic measures that can help manage risk and improve safety. For example, being able to contact support in the event of an emergency is not always possible, and this presents an additional risk for councillors operating in a rural environment

The council identified that mobile communication is not an effective way to support councillor safety because of the rural setting, and other techniques would need to be considered.

The solution:

A range of safety guidance is available to councillors and councils published by the Local Government Association (LGA) and the Local Government Information Unit. However, not all the advice was applicable in a rural setting. So instead, the council designed a training package tailored to the local environment. The training session was delivered directly to councillors and recorded and shared publicly. This allowed councillors who could not attend the event access to the same information as their colleagues and is a helpful reference resource for current and future councillors.

The training video coordinated specialist advice with local knowledge and was introduced by the Cabinet Member for Safety to demonstrate the commitment to creating a safe environment.

The council identified that, owing to the very real threat of councillors working alone and being out of range of communication networks, an enhanced level of safety competence was required. The training video provided in-depth advice on how councillors can carry out preventative actions to ensure they are in the safest environment while carrying out their activities.

The training also provides practical examples of situations where incidents occurred, identifies actions that led to the exposure to danger, and reviews how the organisation and individuals have learnt from previous experience. These examples help increase councillors’ understanding of how risky situations can develop and preventative measures to reduce or mitigate these risks.

The council publishes a regular newsletter called 'Members Matter' to communicate councillor safety and security updates. The newsletter covers training updates, changes to local arrangements, learning from recent incidents, and highlights current issues that councillors may need to be aware of. This helps maintain and refresh councillor safety awareness, ensuring safety remains a priority.

The impact:

Gloucestershire County Council considered general advice provided by various organisations and applied it to their specific local circumstances to create a bespoke training option for their councillors. This advice better suited their needs, and councillors found the content more credible and relatable, increasing their ability to apply it directly to their day-to-day activities.

The availability of ongoing training and accompanying resources has improved councillors' competence around safety and positively impacted their confidence, empowering them to fulfil their essential role in the community.

How is the new approach being sustained?

Gloucestershire County Council communicates with councillors through the regular 'Members Matter' newsletter, ensuring regular reminders and access to the most relevant information. In addition, by providing a link to a bespoke training video, all councillors – including the recently elected – have immediate access to the same elevated level of training, providing a valuable resource to reduce risks associated with their role.

Lessons learned:

Gloucestershire County Council identified the value of referring to national guidance, but this needs to be considered in the local context. Establishing training, resources and processes tailored to the real experience of councillors means that they can more easily apply it, and it is better respected by new and existing councillors.

Relevant documents

Gloucestershire County Council Personal Safety for Councillors Training