Paul Wheeler

Paul Wheeler is the founder of the Political Skills Forum. The forum works with local councils, political parties and national agencies to increase the profile of local political leadership and improve the skills of existing and future councillors.

He has acted as an adviser to the recent Councillors Commission and was also commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation to examine how political parties currently recruit and select their councillors. Recent clients include the Corporation of London, London Borough of Brent, Camden , Waltham Forest, Guardian Newspapers, IDeA and the Leadership Centre for Local Government. He has worked on major induction and development programmes for new political leadership teams in Lambeth and Tower Hamlets following the 2006 local elections. and is the main provider for the Fast track and Next Generation national programmes for talented and ambitious new councillors.

As part of his work with the Leadership Centre he has helped to develop the ground breaking Civic Pride programme which aims to provide direct and practical assistance to political groups preparing for power and also to improve the reputation and value of local politics.

Previously Paul was employed by the Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA) as Assistant Director responsible for political governance issues. His responsibilities at the IDeA included a wide range of consultancy projects and major initiatives including;

Paul has extensive experience of local and central government as well as direct private sector management. He was selected for the ‘fast track’ Unilever Management Development Scheme and worked for Unilever companies in personnel management.

Paul was nominated for the Business Education Programme at the London Business School and worked for NFC during its transformation into the largest employee owned private company in the early 1980s. He has direct experience of the political process as a constituency agent. Joint Author of In Defence of Councillors, he was also a member of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister’s advisory group on political modernisation. He is currently working with the New Health Network on a programme for senior members and managers on using scrutiny to tackle health inequalities in localities more effectively

As a Director of the Public Policy Unit, his clients included Rolls Royce, Granada, and The World Bank. With LLM Communications he also acted as a policy advisor to Deloitte & Touché Public Sector Group, Shelter and the Town and Country Finance Issues Group. He is also school governor for a large secondary school in Inner London.

A frequent speaker at national conferences Paul is also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a Freeman of the City of London. He is a columnist with the Municipal Journal and The Guardian.


Steve Hitchins

Steve was leader of Islington Council from 2000 to 2006 during which time the Audit Commission called Islington the fastest improving council in the country.

Steve is currently adviser to Sir Menzies Campbell on diversity issues and administers the Liberal Democrat Diversity Fund.
Steve is vice-chair of Islington PCT and a director of both the London Development Agency and Newlon Housing Trust.
He is an IDeA advisor, one of the Leadership Centre for Local Government’s three professionally trained ‘political coaches’ and works as a consultant widely in local government including for the private sector.

Steve is Chair of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation which seeks a cure for type 1 diabetes.


Clare Whelan

Clare is a serving councillor on the London Borough of Lambeth to which she was elected in 1990 since when she has held many senior positions both in administration and opposition, including as a Cabinet member, chair of Scrutiny and Mayor.

She is currently Chair of the Council’s Climate Change Commission and Vice Chair of the Environment & Community Safety Scrutiny Committee.

Clare also serves on the Local Government Association’s Environment Board and Finance and Strategy Committee. She is on the UK Women Elected Members working group of the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR) and has frequently represented the UK at CEMR meetings in this context. She is an IDeA accredited peer.

Clare works with the Leadership Centre for Local Government on a number of programmes including the Next Generation leadership course for talented Conservative councillors. Until recently Clare was the National Director of the Tory Reform Group and of Conservative Mainstream. Having previously run the office of an MP in 1990s she has now returned to Westminster to work for a former Conservative Secretary of State.


Christina Dykes

Christina has worked for the Conservative Party in many different capacities for over 20 years Originally a member of the Conservative Research Department she moved on to being a special adviser to the Rt. Hon. Norman Fowler M.P. at the Department of Health and Social Security. A maternity break from Central Office was combined with establishing her own political consultancy. Christina worked for a number of clients, including public affairs consultancies, specialising in health issues as well as the Conservative Medical Society. She was head hunted back to Central Office in 1998 to manage the Listening to Britain process and stayed on to establish the first Department of Development within Central Office. As Director for Development her main responsibilities included candidate selection and maintenance of the candidates list, minority communities, and Conservative Future (the youth branch of the Party).

Whilst being Director of Development, her interest in widening the skills and experience pool from which Conservative candidates are drawn led her to invite Professor Jo Silvester to establish the first ever political assessment centre. It won critical acclaim from both the EOC as well as the CRE.

Her work in building better relations with Britain’s ethnic communities earned her unit the accolade that it was the “most positive and effective of the three main Parties’ ethnic liaison units” (Asian Times 13 October 2003).

Christina’s in-depth knowledge of the Conservative Party and its policies has enabled her to take up a number of special adviser positions. Christina is presently Special Adviser to the Shadow Home Affairs Team reporting to Dominic Grieve M.P. on community cohesion and Jacqui Lait M.P. on civil society. She is also Special Adviser to the Conservative Parliamentary Friends of India and to the Conservative Muslim Forum.


Erica Kemp

Erica Kemp is an experienced Liberal Democrat councillor having spent over twelve years representing an inner city ward of Liverpool both as an opposition member and in control. She is a former teacher with over twenty years teaching experience working with young people with learning and behavioural difficulties. Erica has been appointed as an accredited peer for the IDeA and has worked on CPA inspections for the Audit Commission both as inspector and moderator. Working in a variety of fields has given Erica transferable skills. She has developed excellent interpersonal skills and the ability to work effectively as part of a team. She is currently Chair Housing of Liverpool City Council, Board Member of South Liverpool Housing and Board Member of Liverpool Housing Action Trust

Erica has extensive experience both as an opposition member and experiencing the transition to becoming a member of a controlling group. Active in developing the community leadership role with campaigns to make council services more accessible to residents from minority groups such as Black and Ethnic Minority groups and residents who are deaf or hard of hearing
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Erica has a particular interest in Housing with experience as Chair of Housing and service on a number of boards such as the Liverpool Housing Action Trust, South Liverpool Housing Action Trust and the Strategic Investment Area for Eastern Approaches.

From 2002 she has extended her experience by taking part in a large number of CPA inspections for the Audit Commission including Barnsley, Trafford, Wolverhampton, Stockport, Doncaster, .Essex County Council and Sheffield City Council. Erica was involved in the formation of the CPA processes for Fire Authorities and was the Peer member for CPA Inspections in three Fire Authorities. Currently an accredited peer for the IDeA, she was part of the Peer Review Team of the London Borough of Southwark and is mentoring elected members in a Fire Authority.


Sanjay Mistry

Sanjay Mistry is a graduate with 4 years professional experience of public affairs, communications, research, policy, media, writing speeches, events, media monitoring, campaigning, briefings and including 2 years Parliamentary experience.

He is Campaigns Executive & Project Coordinator for Operation Black Vote and principal researcher for the “70 seats” project. The project involved Engaging with key stakeholders across political boundaries to promote the work of the organisation. As part of the project he organised several events, both nationally and regionally, with Prime Minister, Home Secretary, Education Secretary, and London Mayoral candidates and lobbied political parties on issues related to ethnic minorities. Sanjay previously worked as intern to Theresa May MP, Shadow Secretary for the Family and Peter Bottomley MP for Worthing West

Previous experience includes Researcher of Public Policy Queen Mary College and Research Assistant Institute of Child Health, London. Chair of Parliamentary Advisory Group for the Hindu Forum of Britain and Member of Advisory Group at the University of Birmingham on voter apathy project


Irene MacDonald

Irene MacDonald has over fifteen years’ experience of consultancy in the public and voluntary sectors covering development planning, feasibility studies, research and consultation, evaluation, training and facilitation. She has been leader of Kings Lynn District Council and is currently Labour portfolio holder for economic development on Norfolk County council. Irene has considerable experience of neighbourhood engagement and regeneration in both urban and rural areas, including work with parish and town councils.

Appointed one of the first senior member peers at the IDeA in 2003, Irene has recently been involved as a consultant in setting up the new National Councillor Mentoring Programme and Strategic Team Development Centres. She has experience of successful cross-party working to deliver improvement across district, metropolitan and county councils with the focus on member development and capacity building.

Selected projects relevant to the proposed study (ie use of qualitative and quantitative research, including group discussions and face-to-face interviews) are:


Deborah Benady

Deborah Benady is a communications professional specialising in local government and politics with a track record in helping organisations profile and promote their key messages to a political audience, stakeholders and the public.

Her relevant work experience includes