A local council for local people

Does Royston Vasey have a town council?

I commute to work and I hate it.

Each month I spend more hours than I care to consider and more money than is really sensible traipsing back and forth to my local government job. I do it for a number of reasons: Because if I didn’t it’s highly likely I wouldn’t have a job; because I believe it is important to work in different environments and learn from different experiences; because getting the job I now have was a promotion and because, despite everything, I really enjoy my work.

Despite it all (I really do hate commuting); on balance this makes sense for me as an individual so I suck it up.

But is what is good for me good for the community I serve through my local authority?

You’ve probably heard the arguments before. My council (by which I mean the one I worked for at the time) has fairly frequently rocked up with a ‘workforce to reflect the community’, a ‘Local opportunity’ policy or something similar designed to ensure that the council is made up of people who can relate to the people we are meant to be serving.

This type of policy, which where it is done properly has been really successful, is at heart saying ‘there is a local element to local government and it really helps if we have people working for us who understand the community because they are part of it.’

On the flip side are the people who argue: ‘Don’t get me wrong, it’d nice to have people who live locally working here but my first priority is to get the best possible people for the job in post. I’ll worry about where they live later.’

The debate fascinates me for a number of reasons.

I’ve never worked for an authority at the same time as living in that same authority and I wonder if it would change the way I work. Would I be more knowledgeable about the community I’m serving? I’d certainly require less research and a lot of knowledge and context would come easier to me. But do I ever really know the communities I live in as well as the ones I work in?

I don’t think I do and even the towns I grew up in are still a bit of a mystery to me. In fact there might even be the danger that I would think I knew more than I did and that would be a problem.

On the flip side of this is the problem with the argument.

Rejecting a ‘community reflecting’ workforce is usually accompanied by an argument that politicians are there to reflect the views of the community whilst the officers are there to implement the decisions of those councillors.

Now, we all know that’s not really true.

Officers deal with residents every day and understanding them and empathising with them is part of what we do daily. If empathy and understanding are part of what all officers do then surely a good officer will match a local officer every time.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that it doesn’t really matter where you live so long as you remember that at either end of that long commute is a community who you are there to work for, and to do that properly means more than just parking up, walking into the civic centre and doing a job.

Welovelocalgovernment is a blog written by UK local government officers. If you have a piece you’d like to submit or any comments you’d like to make please drop us a line at: welovelocalgovernment@gmail.com

Explore posts in the same categories: Big P Politics, The future of Local Govt

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2 Comments on “A local council for local people”

  1. LG Worker Says:

    I have worked and lived in the same Local Authority area and I have worked in a different Local Authority then I live in. The big difference I found was that I got to find out more about the area I lived in. I was not ever relying on info I had picked up by living there. Basically it wasn’t an issue. Ironically, when I moved jobs I loved the fact that I felt I could now criticise the Borough I lived in and not try and defend it to the hilt to my neighbours.

    We clearly need to know the communities we work for and this doesn’t have to happen through living there. This is why if I move Authorities, as part of my first few months I study maps, travel around the borough and get to know it.

  2. Krin Says:

    My team at my most recent UK lgov position comprised 3 people, one of whom lived in the Borough. We were working in a rather politically sensitve area, and were privy to decisions before they were made public.

    The major difference I could see between the three of us, is that the colleague who lived in the area would immediately leap to how the decision would affect her personally and argue against it on that basis, whereas myself and my other colleague would (i think) have a more broad view of the effect it would have on the majority of residents of the Borough, or on those residents that the decision would affect.

    Different blinkers and biases, both of which are worth acknowledging.

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