I bumped into an old colleague the other day.  Comparing notes and then checking the published lists I realised that at least six of the candidates in our forthcoming local council election were ex-employees of that council.  And they were all people who had either worked at a senior level (one an ex-director) or closely with councillors.

That’s a good idea you might say – what better way to use the experience and knowledge of those skilled professionals than as elected representatives?

I don’t agree.  This sort of thing often ends in tears.  It’s all to do with expectation and understanding of roles.

Here’s what can go wrong.

  • The new councillor carries their professional baggage with them and thinks they know better than the director responsible for that service of the council.  But they may be out of date, plain wrong, and in any event are elected to represent the people of their area, probably as the member of a political party, and not to be the in-house expert on the subject.  This problem is made worse if their political colleagues say ‘Ooh, you’re a teacher/social worker/engineer.  You should be on the committee that deals with that’
  • This can lead to senior officials devoting disproportionate effort to keeping the ‘expert’ councillor onside (or neutralised!)
  • The councillor and/or their ex-colleagues still working for the council can have inappropriate expectations of each other: it can be difficult to maintain a proper work relationship
  • If so minded, the ex-worker councillor can pursue a grievance against a former colleague/manager through their new role (I have seen a councillor like this pay attention to the performance of their former manager that almost amounted to harrassment)
  • Despite all their experience on the other side of the fence, former professionals do not always understand the fundamental difference between management and politics and can quickly become disillusioned by requirements of the political life.

So there’s plenty of reasons to move on if you’re an ex-council official and not to try for a second life in the same organisation.  Of course, that’s not to say that some won’t be successful as councillors…