Richard Osley, the deputy editor of the Camden New Journal, says the following in his blog:
IT’S not plain old ‘Dear Sarah’ any more! And don’t think about addressing her with a humdrum ‘Councillor Hayward’ either. No, no, no, no…
Chief staff at Camden Town Hall were told this week in an email from admin support that the new Camden Council boss Sarah Hayward – who said on her appointment last month that she was “humbled” by her ascension to the top job – must have all of her correspondence begin with ‘Leader’ or ‘Dear Leader’. Underlings must now be shuddering to think what punishment awaits if an offensive ‘Dear Cllr Hayward’ slips through…
The internal email sent this week confirms: ‘Any correspondence to Councillor Hayward should be addressed to her as “Dear Leader” or “Leader”. Please inform all staff.’
There is no suggestion that Cllr Hayward is responsible for the edict. Indeed she specifically states that she is not, in a comment on the blog post. I believe her. Although I have never met her, I suspect that rather than being stuffy and formal, she is keen "to get down with the kids." She probably would be delighted for her Chief Executive to call out "Yo, Sarah" and give her a high five.
Anyway what is the proper balance? This is one for Mary Killen's Spectator column, I suppose.
Residents should be treated respectfully by council staff and this should mean a presumption against the use of Christian names. Rather the same applies in the NHS. When my mother goes to hospital I prefer nurses to call her "Mrs Phibbs" rather than "Joan". This especially applies as the Christian name she uses is Antoinette, giving emphasis to the false intimacy of calling her Joan.
Of course, the position of councillors is a bit different. They are colleagues of the council staff in serving their local residents. Butt there is a danger of councillors going native, and informality can accentuate this. They can become sympathetic to the bureaucrats for whom the demands of the residents are a nuisance. On the other hand, the relationship needs to be more practical than councillors simply falling back on their legal power is issue instructions. There has to be team work and frank communication. When I was first elected as a councillor six year ago I used to send emails to council officers starting "Dear Mr Smith". But once I had met them a few times that seemed absurd so I started writing "Dear Fred". I usually find they email back "Dear Harry" if they are agreeable to what I propose or "Dear Cllr Phibbs" if they are resistant.