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Ready, Steady, Go: Council boss starts as he means to go on

Ready, Steady, Go: Council boss starts as he means to go on

🕔06.Mar 2014

Mark Rogers, Birmingham city council’s new chief executive, has issued a deeply personal message to town hall staff in which he presents himself as living “in the real world” and understanding how tough times are for most people.

He urges everyone working at the council to unite in creating a culture that “has humility and the service of others at its heart”.

Four days into his £180,000-a-year job, Mr Rogers set out his beliefs and family history in the first of what he hopes will be regular fortnightly blogs.

His inaugural blog has the headline “Ready, Steady, Go”, which happens to be the title of an edgy live pop show broadcast on ITV in the mid-1960s, fronted by Cathy McGowan and Keith Fordyce.

One thing that Mr Rogers does not reveal about himself is his age, so it is impossible to say whether the future chief executive was a young admirer of Ms McGowan, like so many of the rest of us.

Ready, Steady, Go, with Manfred Mann’s ‘5-4-3-2-1’, as its fast-paced title music, was designed to be a bit grittier and more down to earth than the BBC’s Top of the Pops and quickly picked up a cult following. But it only lasted for three years. Hopefully, for Mr Rogers, this is not a bad omen.

He has already committed to making the council a more open organisation, particularly as far as accessing information online and through using social media is concerned. His blog, which contains comprehensive details about his family background, means that we already know more about this chief executive after less than a week in office than we knew about the previous post-holder after eight years in the job.

Issuing personal messages to city council staff has always been an exercise fraught with difficulties. Stephen Hughes, who Mr Rogers replaced as chief executive, was  ridiculed for his “I feel your hurt” communiques that were issued as spending cuts and wage freezes began to bite.

Many of those on the receiving end of Mr Hughes’s missives instinctively felt that someone paid rather more than the prime minister could not possibly understand the problems faced by a council worker on not much more than the minimum wage. This perception, however unfair it may be, is something that Mr Rogers must seek to challenge if he is to take the council workforce with him on his journey through the real world.

Mr Rogers strikes a philosophical note, firstly pointing out that one person acting alone won’t make much difference to Birmingham city council’s performance. He thinks the entire council must unite under a common purpose and “create and sustain a culture that has humility and service of others at its heart”.

Mr Rogers writes: “In my last job I came to rate very highly such key human characteristics as openness, honesty, approachability and keeping promises. On top of this, I consider that showing respect is essential to the building of trust – without which very little is achieved in the first place, nor sustained into the longer term.

“And I’ve never believed that these are traits expected solely of the leadership and management. Rather, I look to an organisation where it is everyone’s desire and responsibility (our collective leadership task if you like) to commit to this kind of values-based approach to doing business.”

He attempts to address head-on the notion that chief executives can know nothing about life at the coal face by pointing to his experiences teaching children with severe learning difficulties.

He adds: “And, in case you think that I might come from another planet where, for example, cuts don’t exist, fear not; I am from the real world and I do understand just how challenging times are (and are going to continue to be) which is why I put culture – and the values and behaviours that define a positive culture – at the top of my list of things to blog about.”

Initial reactions to the new chief’s blog have been positive, particularly with regard to his call for a change in values and behaviours.

One of those commenting on the blog was Tony Smith, the council’s policy executive, who writes: “Thanks Mark and welcome – these values and behaviours certainly provide a timely challenge to all of us – openness, honesty, approachability and keeping promises.”

But Mr Rogers was never going to please everyone.

Birmingham Yardley MP John Hemming commented on the blog: “Thank you for this. I am a local MP and I have been asking for information from the council about various issues relating to housing and finance. However, there have been real difficulties getting that information. How best should I go about trying to get it?”

Hemming got a reply, but not from Mr Rogers himself. A nameless site administrator wrote: “Mr Hemming, Mark will be responding to comments and questions and this comment will be passed onto him. As you will appreciate, today is his first day but he will reply in due course.”

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