Anyone approaching Smithfield this week would have been met with a strange sight, clouds of steam rising from the pavement, all in the name of art.
The ‘water feature’ installed when the council offices were built but only switched on this week was a big hit with teenagers in search of something different in front of which to take their selfies. Passers- by questioned by the Sentinel were rather less impressed, one said it ‘looked like something from a Michael Jackson video', another that when he first saw it he ‘thought something was being jet washed'; these days everyone’s a critic.
All that steam might have come in handy as a smokescreen for the council’s decision to spend £500,000 on hiring six senior officers. These include a Director of social care, health, integration and wellbeing on a salary of £120,000 to £132,000 and five ‘assistant’ directors on salaries ranging from £84,000 to £91,000.
The new appointments are the result of a complicated shuffling around of posts with some being ‘deleted’ so that others can be created that makes the glass bead game look like junior Scrabble. As is usually the way an improvement to how services are delivered is the hoped-for result.
Whether that will materialise is another matter, personally I have always held the view that the longer the title of a job, the less likely its holder is to deliver. All these jobs have titles that involve at least three commas and probably wouldn’t be able to stand up without scaffolding.
Half a million pounds is certainly a significant cash outlay for a council that, when it comes to public services, normally follows the line that every penny should be watched. To be fair it isn’t entirely a situation of their own making, since 2013 local authorities gave been required to employ a Director of Public Health and to their credit that council claim to be making an, admittedly small, cash saving with this round of appointments.
The problem is this seems like another attempt to solve a problem, in this instance the city’s deep seated public health inequalities, from the top down. Local and national government seems to be wedded to the idea that the recipe for fixing social problems should always begin with ‘first appoint some senior managers’.
It is hard not to feel that the money could, and should, be spent on services, not creating another layer of management. That people in Stoke-on-Trent and the many cities like it that have been on the wrong end of economic change for decades have generally worse health outcomes that those living in more affluent areas is self evident; so is the solution.
What is needed is action on the ground backed by sufficient resources to get the job done, not more managers sitting in an ivory, or in this case multi-coloured, tower developing endless new strategies.
Senior managers are like fancy water features, nice to have maybe, but certainly not worth spending money that could be better used elsewhere on.