Ratepayers’ money is being used to send a local Councillor to university, The Impartial Reporter can reveal.

Enniskillen Sinn Féin Councillor Debbie Coyle is currently enrolled in an Advanced Diploma in Civic Leadership and Community Planning at Ulster University Business School.

The course costs £2,250, half of which has been paid by the Local Government Training Group (LGTG), therefore Councillor Coyle’s university attendance has cost local ratepayers £1,125.

The qualification equates to the first year of a primary degree.
One individual who is “fundamentally opposed” to ratepayers covering the expense of councillors educating themselves is Independent Councillor Bernice Swift.

“Ratepayers should not have to pay for Councillors to attend university in order for them to obtain a better education. I feel this is an expense that should be personally incurred by the individual embarking on development or indeed their political party if they feel further education or training is a necessary requirement for the individual to carry out their role,” she stated.

Councillor Swift added: “The accountable question has to be about how this actually benefits the ratepayer.”

Councillor Coyle’s request to attend the Ulster University course was approved by fellow Councillors at the Policy and Resources Committee meeting on January 13, 2016 and ratified at the Council meeting of Tuesday, February 2, 2016. She is due to finish the course in September 2017.

Last week, The Impartial Reporter outlined that, of the 42 Fermanagh and Omagh Councillors, Councillor Coyle had registered the largest amount in conference costs in 2016-17; a total of £2,835. A breakdown of her costs show that the bulk of this cost was for the Ulster University Advanced Diploma in Civic Leadership and Community Planning and with the LGTG reduction, her actual total was £1,769.
Fermanagh and Omagh District Council (FODC) has confirmed that Councillor Coyle is currently the only local councillor enrolled on the course.

A Council spokeswoman told The Impartial Reporter that the Council “supports Councillors’ learning and development in accordance with its Elected Member Learning and Development Policy and in line with the Council’s strategic planning and performance management processes.”
She continued: “The Council is currently working towards Elected Member Development Charter Award accreditation which encourages and promotes the personal and professional development of elected members to develop their knowledge, skills and competencies to undertake their role as Councillor.”

Ulster University says it is “developing civic leaders” and believes the course “meet[s] the need for a practical accredited programme for key players involved in developing and implementing community planning.” 
The university created the 18-month course especially for elected members and officers in district councils, officers in statutory agencies and representatives from the community and voluntary sectors.
Independent Omagh Councillor Sorcha McAnespy passed the same diploma course in 2014 before the amalgamation of Fermanagh and Omagh Councils.

During a discussion about the course at a Council meeting in November 2016, Councillor McAnespy spoke of how beneficial she had found the course in her development as an elected representative. Councillor Coyle was unavailable to comment. 

In response to The Impartial Reporter, Councillor Coyle stated: "This course has been designed for councillors, council officials and the community and voluntary sector as far as I am aware. The course came to council and it was agreed I could be enrolled. 

"The reason I was interested is that Community Planning is a new and very important part of the new council's role and I felt I needed to learn more about it so that I could be more informed when making decisions about Enniskillen and the wider council area of Fermanagh and Omagh. 

"I believe that training and elected member development is really important so that we can develop our skills, increase our knowledge and develop the competencies we need to carry out our role as councillors."