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‘Don’t show me a graph’: councillors slam pensions training as ‘boring and difficult’

Cllr Polly Billington (Lab, De Beauvoir). Photograph: Hackney Council

Hackney councillors have made it clear that the training meant to prepare them for service on the Town Hall’s pensions committee could have gone better.

The training, administered by Hackney Council, is designed to familiarise members with the knowledge required to oversee the management of a pension fund worth almost £1.5 billion.

Speaking at the committee’s 12 September meeting, Cllr Polly Billington (Lab, De Beauvoir) said: “I thought the training was really boring, really difficult and made me feel like I was about 11 years old.

“I felt like, if this was a tick-box exercise hoping that stuff would stick if it was thrown at me, then that’s what happened.

“You have got some really competent councillors here. If you have somebody taking decisions about important things relating to people’s lives, involving a lot of money, I’d prefer to do things in a competent way.

“Quite a lot of the conceptual stuff is clear to people who have studied certain things, but quite a lot of the language used, I’m not comfortable using.

“If somebody told me the story that there was a massive financial crisis, meaning that they had to change the laws, I’d sit up and take notice. Don’t show me a graph.”

Concerns surrounding the training’s delivery were echoed by fellow committee members, as well as officers who admitted that they had also felt that the training had not been working as well as it might.

Cllr Rebecca Rennison (Lab, Kings Park), cabinet member for finance and housing needs, pointed out that councillors attending the training would all have different ways of learning, and called for an “a la carte” approach of individual training plans going forward which would reflect councillors’ separate need.

Rachel Cowburn, Hackney’s head of pension fund investment, said: “The question is how we make the best use of the limited time available.

“It’s difficult to get you all in one room at the same time. We want you to get the most out of the training time, as we recognise that you don’t have to think about this sort of thing every day.

“What we can take away is to look into making sure that we are providing you with a good individual needs assessment looking at where you are relative to your knowledge and skillset.”

The committee met on 12 September to discuss a potential new strategy for Hackney’s pension fund.

Councillors agreed in principle to consider a shift of 10 per cent of the fund’s investments from traditional equities to ‘alternative credit’ investments such as high yield bonds or commercial real estate debt.

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