Here’s to the guardians of the public galaxy

I’m writing in praise of a particular type of public servant.

Unsung heroes who give their time, skills and expertise to guide and support our public services and institutions.  Sometimes they are paid but more often they get only basic expenses.  They don’t seek publicity and rarely get attention in the media. They  do what they do because they want to make a difference.

You might be surprised to learn that in the UK there might be as many as 400,000 of these quiet heroes.

You probably know someone who is one, maybe more than one – there’s a good chance that you’re one yourself.

I’m talking about members of public bodies.

By members of public bodies I mean; school governors; councillors; housing trust members; health board members; higher and further education body members; as well as parliamentarians and the members of the numerous other public bodies needed to ensure everything runs as it should.

It’s telling, I think, that we don’t really have a collective term for all these people given the fundamental similarities of what they do.  ‘Members of public bodies’ doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue and although I’ll use ‘public governors’ I know that doesn’t sound quite right either.  How about MPBs? Or even MOPuBs? Ah well, let me know if you have a better option.

Either way we couldn’t have public services and institutions the same way without them.  As well as bringing skills and experience, members of public bodies bring the voice of the public – asking questions that people would want to ask of managers and decision makers.  It is this accountability to the lay person that goes a long way to making our public services public.

And this is not an easy role.

Whether in education, housing, health or any other field, a constantly changing legal and policy landscape, coupled with new demands for services and unexpected crises means there is rarely time to sit back and relax.

There is also a weight of responsibility on the shoulders of every public governor who know that ‘governance failure’ on their part can lead to poor services or even tragic outcomes for the people that rely on them.

And that’s not to mention the commitment required.  Not everyone wants to spend their winter’s evenings at four-hour governing body meetings or their Sunday mornings working their way though performance reports and management reports.

But they do it all anyway.

And we should be grateful that they do.

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