Birmingham City Council are certainly being hauled over the coals by the Birmingham Post this week. Yesterday, the paper revealed that BCC’s Business Transformation Project is looking at a £10m shortfall on its projected savings, and now in today’s edition we read that council chiefs have spent £1.4m of taxpayers’ money entertaining corporate guests at the city’s football grounds, and - strangest of all - their very own director of communications has lambasted the city’s PR strategy.
This bizarre front-page splash has Debra Davis’ comments as taken from a staff consultation paper where she appears to denigrate the very communications approach she is responsible for, claiming that there’s:
- No joined-up, consistent strategic planning of communications based on evidence and market research
- No systematic control of campaigns
- No overall framework for monitoring, measuring and reporting on the effectiveness of council communications
This is adjoined to some promise of a “new, dynamic and radically different” way of doings things. Great. But hang on a second – hasn’t Debra Davis been in her role as communications director for almost three years now? Why hasn’t she implemented these changes before now? Why has it only on the 20th October 2009 that the public are discovering that the council “does not know” how much it spends on communications or whether it delivers value for money?
One thing is for sure, this revelation is a public relations disaster...but then Debra Davis is no stranger to putting her foot in it.
Readers of the Sunday Mercury may recognise the name of Birmingham City Council’s “queen of spin” who famously blew £1,000 of expenses at a luxury hotel in one day in her native Canada, as well as using taxpayers’ money for fund five star trips there, and to attend a string of “networking events” at home in Birmingham. It appears, however, that the extortionate bills Ms Davis clocked up have done little to actually assist her or the city council, and shockingly she feels comfortable enough to fire-off criticism at her own department.
Back in December 2007, the TPA revealed that Birmingham City Council spent over £10m on publicity in the year 06/07 – the biggest spend in the country, and yet former regeneration chief Clive Dutton famously claimed that Birmingham was “anonymous” in London and on his recent departure, recommended outsourcing strategic communications to a “top notch” private agency.
However PR progresses at the council, there can be little doubt that Debra Davis has utterly failed to run a tight ship and promote Birmingham properly with the many millions of our pounds she’s handed. Worse still, days like today only serve to show that her actions and words can actually be pretty damaging to the reputation of the authority. Even so, she still commands a salary of £100,000 and isn’t shy of pulling out her expenses card.
It’s usually good to hear someone being honest and practical about pointing out the reality of inefficiencies in local government, but there’s something quite worrying about the fact a director can quite happily pan their own department without holding themselves accountable or fearing a dismissal or any disciplinary.
If, after three years, the division you run is inadequate, ineffective and burning cash, then you’re inadequate, ineffective and burning cash and if even you recognise that – even more, if only you recognise that – then do have the decency to stand down.