A few days ago, Hove Councillor Robert Nemeth spent a day with refuse collectors, observing the journey of our waste from doorsteps to the lorries which take it to be incinerated in Newhaven. His initiative is something that should be applauded, it would be fantastic if the other 53 Councillors in Brighton & Hove, along with others further afield could take inspiration from Roberts’s example and look for similar opportunities for their own time working on our behalf. Councillors have to make many decisions on a wide range of issues and it is vital that they do not depend exclusively on the briefings provided by the officers who work tirelessly on their behalf. No one would suggest that Robert Nemeth is an expert on the work of emptying bins, but he is probably more knowledgeable than most of his colleagues following this experience. It is clear that attending meetings and carrying out civic engagements ensures that these representatives pick up some understanding on the work they commission, but I suspect that this is often relatively superficial. I suspect that some of the people that Robert met on his day on the bins, have never spent so much time with a local Councillor and so the benefit is two ways and goes beyond merely informing Councillors.
There are many opportunities within and outside the formal operations of Councils for Councillors to extend their understanding. Councils make many decisions that impact the Police, NHS, Fire and Rescue, Education and the Voluntary Sector as well as Council Services. I appreciate that such an idea could easily become a bit of a gimmick. The real test will be if people like Robert repeat the experience during their tenure as Councillors, and if as a result better decisions get taken. That way all of us will benefit from these experiences.