Joanna Williams Joanna Williams

The hypocrisy of Birmingham’s council

Credit: Birmingham City Council

Who is to blame for Birmingham City Council’s dire financial situation? The council has long been struggling to pay its bills and effectively declared itself bankrupt yesterday. In a brief statement, a spokesperson for the Labour-run council pointed the finger at ‘equal pay claims’ as the cause of the problem, explaining: 

The council is still in a position where it must fund the equal pay liability that has accrued to date (in the region of £650m to £760m), but it does not have the resources to do so.

Europe’s largest local authority has indeed paid a high price for its gender pay gap. After a 2012 legal case found in favour of 174 of the city’s women, the council has so far doled out £1.1billion. But while the figures quoted in yesterday’s announcement might be true, it seems unfair to pin the blame for the council’s economic mess on Birmingham’s lowest paid women. 

Birmingham employs 21 council officials on annual salaries of more than £100,000

The pay claim hinged on the fact that women who worked for the council in traditionally female jobs such as cooks, cleaners and carers, received the same basic salary as men on the same pay grade but who were employed in traditionally male jobs such as street cleaners, grave diggers and refuse collectors. However, only staff in the ‘male’ jobs received a bonus. These unequal pay arrangements were no hangover from a pre-feminist era.

Now, I am often the first to argue that news of gender pay gaps can be overstated. But it is hard to see what happened in Birmingham – and up to 20 other councils – as anything other than a clear cut case of sexist discrimination. And this sexism is made all the more galling by Birmingham council’s fondness for displaying its progressive credentials. 

Back in 2020, council officials invited local residents to suggest names for new roads in the Perry Barr area of the city. After sifting through entries including the names of historical figures and local landmarks, the judging panel decided the winning theme was to be ‘cohesion and shared values’. So Birmingham is now home to Diversity Grove, Equality Road, Respect Way and Humanity Close. Clearly, this street-naming exercise is not responsible for the hole in Birmingham’s budget. But there is more than a degree of hypocrisy in council officials naming streets after values such as ‘equality’ and ‘respect’ while knowing that they underpaid working class women and had not yet settled the claim.

Two years later, Birmingham hosted the Commonwealth Games. The opening ceremony will no doubt be forever etched in the memory of anyone who managed to endure the full three hours. Rather than focusing on sport, the ceremony went big on the themes of diversity and inclusion. Among other highlights, viewers were treated to a parade of 35 people carrying Pride flags, intended to represent the Commonwealth nations where homosexuality is still a crime. This was then topped by a 35-foot long mechanical bull carried into the arena by 50 women in chains – apparently a representation of the oppression women experienced during the Industrial Revolution.

For all its woke street names, Birmingham has a problem with class

Hosting the Commonwealth Games no doubt cost Brummies a quid or two. But again, it’s not the money that sticks in the throat so much as the rank hypocrisy. A council that knowingly paid men more than women had the gall to parade its commitment to gender equality on the world stage. This sorry saga tells us everything we need to know about the shallow nature of woke politics today. While image is all important, the real lives of ordinary people matter very little. 

But what has been going on in Birmingham is not simply an attempt to cover up old fashioned sexism with an over-enthusiasm for virtue-signalling. The financial mess reveals another entrenched inequality and an even more virulent prejudice. 

Birmingham employs 21 council officials on annual salaries of more than £100,000 who no doubt enjoyed the Pride flag waving at the Commonwealth Games. And it turns out that at least one woman employed by the council is very well paid indeed. The authority’s latest accounts show that Deborah Cadman, the chief executive, took home £184,374 last year, plus almost £40,000 in employer pension contributions. Perhaps we all need to applaud her determination to put a one-woman end to the city’s gender pay gap. 

But forget gender for a moment – both the female cleaners and the male rubbish collectors are earning a fraction of the salaries paid to these privileged virtue-signalling council bureaucrats. For all its woke street names, Birmingham has a problem with class. Those who care for the sick and keep the city clean not only have to struggle to get by on low wages, they have to contend with being looked down upon by those sitting in the council offices. To Birmingham’s cultural elite, working class people are so backward they need a constant drip-feed of diversity messaging to keep them in check.

Let’s hope that the city’s council tax payers – potentially on the hook for a 10 per cent rise in their bills – send the virtue-signalling sexists packing.

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