The not-so-magnificent seven

Flying in the face of their already questionable claim to “an enviable reputation for forward-thinking and fiscal discipline”, Birmingham City Council have made the front page of today’s Birmingham Post due to the fact that they are currently advertising for seven (yes seven!) ‘Assistant Directors of Finance’.


Whilst trying to comprehend this move you may well fall into the trap of presuming that each of these ‘directors’ will take a division of duty (and you’d be correct), and so naturally they’d each be paid a proportion of the wages that might be paid to one presiding director, or perhaps two senior directors' salaries might be split between them, or even three.


How very wrong you’d be on the latter assumption.


Each of these seven Assistant Directors of Finance will be paid up to £85k, plus relocation package. And Birmingham City Council certainly aren’t shy about any additional perks as more than a wink assures that successful candidates (all seven of them) will be very well looked after, as the advertisement boasts:


“Bring us the qualities we're after, and in return we'll reward you significantly. You'll receive a salary of up to £85,000 per annum, a final salary pension scheme and a range of attractive benefits”.


According to deputy council leader, Paul Tilsley, they’re advertising to take on a whole team, and all of these positions existed beforehand. So even though they’ve been surviving with less than £595,000 per annum’s worth of finance directors up until now, and despite the fact they’re supposedly looking for ways to economise, they still thought they’d blow the lot and replace every last member of staff.


Does losing seven finance directors really mean you have to hire seven in replacement? Do the employers in our council really lack the dynamism to see that this was a perfect opportunity to cut costs and save local taxpayers’ money?


As for how one department could so rapidly morph into the Marie Celeste of local government, and what actually became of the original gang of seven assistant finance directors, well that’s really anyone’s guess. There’s a novel in there somewhere.


Birmingham City Council now has one standard deflection, and though it can take on different guises those familiar with their press statements could recognise it instantly, paraphrased it amounts to “We’re spending money to save money”. And this, of course, is exactly what they said of the IT invoice processing system, and what a wonderfully successful money-saver that proved to be with 30,000 outstanding payments owed to various contractors who had to wait literally months for them to be sorted (presumably manually in many cases).


Set to be part of their own Birmingham City Council ‘business transformation project’ the ethos behind hiring these seven finance directors is completely riddled with contradictions; they say they're 'transforming', but they’re just hiring replacement staff; they’re looking for “suitably qualified private sector high-flyers” and that’s why the salaries are set high, but nevertheless “there will be a number of candidates who are internal”; they want to economise, but they’re flaunting their ability to offer final-salary pensions and "significant benefits", and perhaps worst of all is that they don’t even seem to recognise the irony of the fact that they’re hiring seven finance directors complete with inflated salaries and perks a-plenty “to make sure departments do not over-spend”.