Birmingham City Council chief executive Stephen Hughes has issued an extraordinary personal apology to “angry” local authority staff for the stress they are under as a result of an unprecedented redundancy and public spending cuts programme.
In a lengthy memo to employees Mr Hughes says he is sorry he “hasn’t paid enough attention to the hurt you are all feeling”, and adds that the workforce is not to blame for the financial mess the country is in.
More than 1,200 council jobs have been shed since April, as the authority struggles to identify savings of more than £260 million this year.
In his message to about 26,000 staff, Mr Hughes seeks to challenge union claims that he is heartlessly implementing cuts and axing jobs.
He says: “I do understand how difficult it is for all staff at present. The financial situation that the council and local government faces has forced changes none of us would have wanted.
“It looks like we will be facing a third year of pay freezes, except for incremental progression. Many of you are involved in organisational change where there are anxieties about whether or not you will have a job.
“We are all being put under pressure to work harder in order that services are not being adversely affected. Pension contributions are likely to rise. Taxes and prices have risen. We are all saddened to see valued colleagues leaving.”
The 1,200-word memo goes on to state that employees are right to feel anxious and angry.
It states: “It’s not your fault that the country faces such problems, and it’s unfair that you are paying the consequences of other people’s actions.
“Myself, other senior managers and members have been overwhelmingly concentrating on how to manage these massive changes the council has had to put in place. In consequence while efforts have been made to support staff through these changes we haven’t paid enough attention to the hurt you are all feeling, and what we can do to mitigate that.
“I’m personally sorry about that, and I recognise the need to do more. I hope this will be a start.”
Mr Hughes urges staff to reflect on positives, including the wide range of public services still provided by the council.
He adds: “Between us we help and support the million people of Birmingham in almost every aspect of their lives from cradle to grave. We provide early years support, day and nursery care, we educate children and help them get to school.
“We provide extensive support to families to help them with their personal lives.
“We work with long term workless to help provide them with skills and find them jobs.”
After going through a lengthy list of other council services, the chief executive adds: “This is a huge achievement that people perhaps take for granted. You should feel proud about this contribution and how many people depend on what we do to make their lives better and safer.
“Whatever you feel about everything else that is going on, don’t ever forget your contribution.”
He accepts the need to do more to mitigate the impact of job losses, promising to step up efforts to find private sector employment for council staff faced by redundancy.
Controversial changes to employment contracts, scrapping overtime and unsocial hours pay for thousands of staff, are described by Mr Hughes as “logical” and a way of bringing the council into line with the private sector.
He is to step up the My Birmingham Rewards programme, which offers local authority employees discounts on a range of goods including food, petrol and insurance.
Mr Hughes concludes: “Birmingham City Council remains committed to being a place where you can have a long career, feel fulfilled and rewarded, learn, develop and grow. I will increase the scale of my engagement with staff, to work with you to make Birmingham City Council an employer of choice.”