Somerset County Council hires public speaking experts to prepare staff for children's centre consultations

County Hall in Taunton.

County Hall in Taunton.

First published in Somerset This is The West Country: Photograph of the Author Exclusive by

COUNCIL staff facing a grilling from parents over proposed changes to children’s centres have been taught how to deal with difficult questions by an outside body, the County Gazette has learned.

Somerset County Council commissioned a document by public speaking experts The Campaign Company to brief facilitators and speakers ahead of consultations over the ‘de-designation’ of 11 centres.

A request under the Freedom of Information Act was lodged with the council to determine how much public money was spent on the advice, but the authority said it was commercially sensitive and refused to disclose the amount.

The document – obtained by the Gazette – highlights “hostile” media coverage towards the council’s plans, referring to specific articles run by the County Gazette and the BBC.

It also mentions “vocal and critical” comments made in the press by Cllr Mike Rigby (Independent) and Cllr Justine Baker (LibDem).

Speakers were told to reiterate five ‘top line key messages’ when probed at consultations and given a list of likely questions with some suggested answers.

Somerset County Council defended its decision to hire the outside organisation to brief speakers ahead of the consultations, which are still underway.

A spokesman said: “The council has its own expertise in engagement, involvement and consultation.

“However, this kind of work comes in peaks and troughs so, while we undertake the majority ourselves, at busy times – such as now – we commission support on a case by case basis.

“This has always been the case and is preferable to delaying important work like this because we haven’t got capacity, or having too many staff during the ‘trough’ periods.

“In this case the support is to prepare and facilitate meetings, gather feedback at the meetings and produce an independent summary of comments raised.

“A very small part of preparing for the meetings involves giving council staff attending the events an idea of the kind of questions that they might be asked so that they can answer common questions quickly and accurately.”

Comments (10)

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6:03pm Mon 14 Apr 14

SamF92 says...

Utterly shameless.
Utterly shameless. SamF92
  • Score: -17

7:05pm Mon 14 Apr 14

FreeSpeech? says...

Council tax payers money being well spent again, wonder how much was wasted this time?
Council tax payers money being well spent again, wonder how much was wasted this time? FreeSpeech?
  • Score: -16

10:28am Tue 15 Apr 14

topcataj says...

So, if they don't consult they aren't listening to the people, if they do consult they are wasting tax payers money?
So, if they don't consult they aren't listening to the people, if they do consult they are wasting tax payers money? topcataj
  • Score: 17

6:43pm Tue 15 Apr 14

david1966 says...

topcataj wrote:
So, if they don't consult they aren't listening to the people, if they do consult they are wasting tax payers money?
No what they are doing to 'coaching' the council employees on how to answer the 'difficult' questions that will be asked by the parents etc. This is so as not to drop them in the proverbial poo which will raise further questions about their inability to manage services. The staff obviously cannot do their job or be trusted to speak - if we was in the usa no doubt they would sit and plead the 5th to anything they are not comfortable in answering.

Also note how they were told to reiterate the top 5 messages, a bit like a politician not being able to answer a direct question rather than answer what they have been asked. Some of these questioned are on ridiculous sums and should be able to answer without any coaching as its their job, if they are not good enough then they should be got rid of but then that is not easy in our council just look at sheila debacle!
[quote][p][bold]topcataj[/bold] wrote: So, if they don't consult they aren't listening to the people, if they do consult they are wasting tax payers money?[/p][/quote]No what they are doing to 'coaching' the council employees on how to answer the 'difficult' questions that will be asked by the parents etc. This is so as not to drop them in the proverbial poo which will raise further questions about their inability to manage services. The staff obviously cannot do their job or be trusted to speak - if we was in the usa no doubt they would sit and plead the 5th to anything they are not comfortable in answering. Also note how they were told to reiterate the top 5 messages, a bit like a politician not being able to answer a direct question rather than answer what they have been asked. Some of these questioned are on ridiculous sums and should be able to answer without any coaching as its their job, if they are not good enough then they should be got rid of but then that is not easy in our council just look at sheila debacle! david1966
  • Score: -9

8:32am Wed 16 Apr 14

Mi_Coc says...

At least they consult unlike tdbc who just decided to fund the brewhouse £160k and rising with tax payers money while we have cuts to childrens centres.

I for one will be very disappointed if they close the fledglings centre!

Schooling council workers to answer questions is nothing new but again if these people cant answer questions about childrens services why are they employed by the council.
At least they consult unlike tdbc who just decided to fund the brewhouse £160k and rising with tax payers money while we have cuts to childrens centres. I for one will be very disappointed if they close the fledglings centre! Schooling council workers to answer questions is nothing new but again if these people cant answer questions about childrens services why are they employed by the council. Mi_Coc
  • Score: -12

8:44am Wed 16 Apr 14

FreeSpeech? says...

I see by the thumbs down that we have a few of the inept council staff mentioned in the story are able to read and leave feedback to the comments posted. Well done , one day you may also learn to carry out you jobs properly.
I see by the thumbs down that we have a few of the inept council staff mentioned in the story are able to read and leave feedback to the comments posted. Well done , one day you may also learn to carry out you jobs properly. FreeSpeech?
  • Score: -15

11:15am Wed 16 Apr 14

topcataj says...

david1966 wrote:
topcataj wrote:
So, if they don't consult they aren't listening to the people, if they do consult they are wasting tax payers money?
No what they are doing to 'coaching' the council employees on how to answer the 'difficult' questions that will be asked by the parents etc. This is so as not to drop them in the proverbial poo which will raise further questions about their inability to manage services. The staff obviously cannot do their job or be trusted to speak - if we was in the usa no doubt they would sit and plead the 5th to anything they are not comfortable in answering.

Also note how they were told to reiterate the top 5 messages, a bit like a politician not being able to answer a direct question rather than answer what they have been asked. Some of these questioned are on ridiculous sums and should be able to answer without any coaching as its their job, if they are not good enough then they should be got rid of but then that is not easy in our council just look at sheila debacle!
Well, it might be worth bearing in mind that the gazette may not be exactly neutral in this considering they mention being referred to as hostile media. Their stance seems to contradict the quote from the council says “In this case the support is to prepare and facilitate meetings, gather feedback at the meetings and produce an independent summary of comments raised.".

That's a little different to 'coaching staff to deal with difficult questions'. Which to believe, a public sector organisation or a media outlet reporting on a story in which it has been refereed to as hostile.....
[quote][p][bold]david1966[/bold] wrote: [quote][p][bold]topcataj[/bold] wrote: So, if they don't consult they aren't listening to the people, if they do consult they are wasting tax payers money?[/p][/quote]No what they are doing to 'coaching' the council employees on how to answer the 'difficult' questions that will be asked by the parents etc. This is so as not to drop them in the proverbial poo which will raise further questions about their inability to manage services. The staff obviously cannot do their job or be trusted to speak - if we was in the usa no doubt they would sit and plead the 5th to anything they are not comfortable in answering. Also note how they were told to reiterate the top 5 messages, a bit like a politician not being able to answer a direct question rather than answer what they have been asked. Some of these questioned are on ridiculous sums and should be able to answer without any coaching as its their job, if they are not good enough then they should be got rid of but then that is not easy in our council just look at sheila debacle![/p][/quote]Well, it might be worth bearing in mind that the gazette may not be exactly neutral in this considering they mention being referred to as hostile media. Their stance seems to contradict the quote from the council says “In this case the support is to prepare and facilitate meetings, gather feedback at the meetings and produce an independent summary of comments raised.". That's a little different to 'coaching staff to deal with difficult questions'. Which to believe, a public sector organisation or a media outlet reporting on a story in which it has been refereed to as hostile..... topcataj
  • Score: 11

5:01pm Fri 18 Apr 14

Little_Owly says...

'A request under the Freedom of Information Act was lodged with the council to determine how much public money was spent on the advice, but the authority said it was commercially sensitive and refused to disclose the amount. '

My council tax. I should know how its spent. Disgusting. Council finances should be completely transparent. It's not their money, it's ours.
'A request under the Freedom of Information Act was lodged with the council to determine how much public money was spent on the advice, but the authority said it was commercially sensitive and refused to disclose the amount. ' My council tax. I should know how its spent. Disgusting. Council finances should be completely transparent. It's not their money, it's ours. Little_Owly
  • Score: 1

11:28pm Fri 18 Apr 14

somersetvoyager says...

Little_Owly wrote:
'A request under the Freedom of Information Act was lodged with the council to determine how much public money was spent on the advice, but the authority said it was commercially sensitive and refused to disclose the amount. '

My council tax. I should know how its spent. Disgusting. Council finances should be completely transparent. It's not their money, it's ours.
I'm guessing the F.O.I. request was classed as a 'difficult question', forwarded to the public speaking experts and, after some time, the reply came... the council was then invoiced for the expert advice, and the figures became out of date immediately.
[quote][p][bold]Little_Owly[/bold] wrote: 'A request under the Freedom of Information Act was lodged with the council to determine how much public money was spent on the advice, but the authority said it was commercially sensitive and refused to disclose the amount. ' My council tax. I should know how its spent. Disgusting. Council finances should be completely transparent. It's not their money, it's ours.[/p][/quote]I'm guessing the F.O.I. request was classed as a 'difficult question', forwarded to the public speaking experts and, after some time, the reply came... the council was then invoiced for the expert advice, and the figures became out of date immediately. somersetvoyager
  • Score: 2

1:48pm Sun 20 Apr 14

FreeSpeech? says...

topcataj wrote:
david1966 wrote:
topcataj wrote:
So, if they don't consult they aren't listening to the people, if they do consult they are wasting tax payers money?
No what they are doing to 'coaching' the council employees on how to answer the 'difficult' questions that will be asked by the parents etc. This is so as not to drop them in the proverbial poo which will raise further questions about their inability to manage services. The staff obviously cannot do their job or be trusted to speak - if we was in the usa no doubt they would sit and plead the 5th to anything they are not comfortable in answering.

Also note how they were told to reiterate the top 5 messages, a bit like a politician not being able to answer a direct question rather than answer what they have been asked. Some of these questioned are on ridiculous sums and should be able to answer without any coaching as its their job, if they are not good enough then they should be got rid of but then that is not easy in our council just look at sheila debacle!
Well, it might be worth bearing in mind that the gazette may not be exactly neutral in this considering they mention being referred to as hostile media. Their stance seems to contradict the quote from the council says “In this case the support is to prepare and facilitate meetings, gather feedback at the meetings and produce an independent summary of comments raised.".

That's a little different to 'coaching staff to deal with difficult questions'. Which to believe, a public sector organisation or a media outlet reporting on a story in which it has been refereed to as hostile.....
Well it might also be worth bearing in mind that anything the civil service regard as fact should be taken with a pinch of salt as they are renowned to be economical with the truth.
[quote][p][bold]topcataj[/bold] wrote: [quote][p][bold]david1966[/bold] wrote: [quote][p][bold]topcataj[/bold] wrote: So, if they don't consult they aren't listening to the people, if they do consult they are wasting tax payers money?[/p][/quote]No what they are doing to 'coaching' the council employees on how to answer the 'difficult' questions that will be asked by the parents etc. This is so as not to drop them in the proverbial poo which will raise further questions about their inability to manage services. The staff obviously cannot do their job or be trusted to speak - if we was in the usa no doubt they would sit and plead the 5th to anything they are not comfortable in answering. Also note how they were told to reiterate the top 5 messages, a bit like a politician not being able to answer a direct question rather than answer what they have been asked. Some of these questioned are on ridiculous sums and should be able to answer without any coaching as its their job, if they are not good enough then they should be got rid of but then that is not easy in our council just look at sheila debacle![/p][/quote]Well, it might be worth bearing in mind that the gazette may not be exactly neutral in this considering they mention being referred to as hostile media. Their stance seems to contradict the quote from the council says “In this case the support is to prepare and facilitate meetings, gather feedback at the meetings and produce an independent summary of comments raised.". That's a little different to 'coaching staff to deal with difficult questions'. Which to believe, a public sector organisation or a media outlet reporting on a story in which it has been refereed to as hostile.....[/p][/quote]Well it might also be worth bearing in mind that anything the civil service regard as fact should be taken with a pinch of salt as they are renowned to be economical with the truth. FreeSpeech?
  • Score: 1

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