Personal Site of

Councillor Bruce Tennent

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Photograph of Councillor Bruce Tennent
Councillor Bruce Tennent

Mobile: 07703 447365

Email:
bruce.tennent
@eastleigh.gov.uk

Home Address:
42 Holly Gardens
West End
Southampton
Hampshire
SO30 3RW

About Me

When I was first elected to the Borough of Eastleigh in 2006 I never realized how complex our society is.  Much of the work councillors do is behind the scenes, which requires an understanding of all of the council’s services from refuse collection to planning legislation.  Initially I was cautious about volunteering to be on committees, because I was concerned about the time these meeting would take out of my life.  After all, being a councillor is about fitting the work in with one’s day job.  It wasn’t easy when getting home from a hard day at work and then finding the time to go through the post and e-mails that had arrived during the day from members of the public and council officers and then working out how best to respond.

To this end, it quickly became obvious that the committees are an integral part of the life of a councillor.  It is where the decisions are made, often about one’s own community.  I discovered that in District councils with over 85,000 people (there are 120,000 people living in Eastleigh), a Cabinet system is in operation, much like at Westminster, but these things can change with change of government.  As of May 2010 local authorities can go back to the Committee system if they so wish.  For the present at Eastleigh Borough Council, it is within Cabinet that the real decisions are made, although these have to be ratified at Full Council meetings.  Knowing this, I wondered how I could get more involved.  Just like national government who have Select committees where MPs interview expert witnesses, we do the same at local level; only at Eastleigh, we call them Scrutiny Committees.  It is our job to scrutinize decisions being made by Cabinet, to double check, in effect to be their critical friend.

The problem was I did not understand the scrutiny process and because I had not volunteered to be on many committees, I was not in a position to gain the experience.  As I saw it, I had no choice but to volunteer to be on as many committees as I could.  The knock-on effect of this though was that in terms of time, my commitment soared.  Even so, in my view, I was still not being effective enough, I needed to learn about scrutiny, how to ask those probing questions, so when the opportunity arose to attend seminars on scrutiny I was first in the queue.  One of the best is run by the CfPS, the Centre for Public Scrutiny, an annual free Parliamentary Seminar series, held at the House of Commons.  Here we are able to practice our questioning skills and techniques and share feedback and best practice with colleagues.

Although this helped, I still could not fathom out how such things as council tax was calculated, what was meant by special expenses, how the budget process operated, the level of funding government gave the council and how much of what is raised locally the council is able to keep.  I needed to know about local government finance, amongst other things.  When I discovered that a pilot programme was being developed to give councillors an opportunity to learn all these things, I knew I must put my name forward.  As with the committees, I was hesitant since I was under no illusions about the amount of time I would have to set aside for this and as it was a post-graduate course, I was also under no illusions that it would be easy.  The course was developed from the Masters in Public Administration programme and was called “Local Governance for Councillors”.  The university chosen for the pilot, London South Bank University, was chosen partly because it was central for the eighteen councillors from around the Southeast that took part.  The course was a spread over twelve months, operated remotely with much private study and with a number of study sessions at university. http://bus.lsbu.ac.uk/pgcert-local-governance

Well, after successfully completing that course in the spring of 2009 and gaining a merit pass, I decided that I would like to do a full Masters in Public Administration, which I started in autumn of 2009 at the University of Portsmouth.  It was a rigorous two year part-time course that increased in intensity right to the end when I completed my dissertation.  The topic I chose for my dissertation was councillors and what is it that makes ordinary members of the public want to take on this role.  The work was entitled "The Recruitment of Councillors in England."  I have had a tough three years with this academic study, but it was worth it to be able to have a level of understanding on par with my previous career in engineering.  I passed the MPA with merit and graduated in the summer of 2012, my fourth time of wearing a mortar board and gown. 

Page updated: 27/10/2012, 02:31