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£56k of ratepayers' cash is spent on training courses for Belfast councillors

By Rebecca Black

Published 10/06/2015

Belfast City Hall
Belfast City Hall

Sinn Fein councillors have claimed more than any other party on Belfast City Council for training courses.

In data released this week, it emerged that there were 62 claims by members of Sinn Fein for training in the Irish language, dealing with the media, attending conferences and the new planning powers which councils now have.

The next most prolific claimers were SDLP councillors, with a total of 26 claims, followed by the DUP with 14 claims and Alliance with 11.

UUP and PUP councillors claimed three apiece and the TUV claimed just one. In total, more than £56,000 was claimed by councillors from across the parties over the last four years for various types of personal development training.

Some 14 Sinn Fein councillors claimed £239.95 each in 2012 for media training. This is despite the fact that most of the party's representatives refer media inquiries to the Sinn Fein Press office.

SDLP councillor Claire Hanna has justified receiving help funding her masters degree course in law and governance. She has defended the £3,000 she received towards her course at Queen's University as relevant to her work as a councillor, and said she even tailored what she studied for her responsibilities as a public representative, such as leisure services and planning. Ms Hanna also paid a third of the cost herself.

Meanwhile, one Alliance councillor who hardly uses social media underwent a £225 training course in it.

Mervyn Jones received the special training in June 2012, yet he does not use one of the world's biggest social media websites, Twitter, and his last post on Facebook was back in January 2014.

He has defended the use of ratepayers' money, saying it was simply a short course and that he does use social media.

However, UUP councillor Jim Rodgers has expressed reservations about the number of training days that Sinn Fein councillors took part in, saying it was "over the top".

He said that the council agreed on the personal development programme in 2010, but said he felt that certain aspects of it may need to be reviewed.

In the past four years he claimed just one payment, £461.87 to attend a Cities of the Isles conference in Cardiff, which he described as "really useful".

A spokesman for Belfast City Council said: "Belfast City Council elected members are committed to providing a leadership role for Belfast in all aspects of the city's growth and development, as well as dealing with the complex social issues which we face and providing high quality services."

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