A local council for local people
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.
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