Sorry is the hardest word

By Blair McPherson | 03 November 2020

It’s been a week for high profile individuals to apologies and  admit they got it wrong - or not. Victoria Derbyshire did, Jeremy Corbyn didn’t. One important lesson for those in the public eye, and I include local authority senior managers in this group, is accepting that sometimes you have to swallow your pride and say what is expected. Victoria said she was, 'totally wrong, I’m sorry. We will of course follow whatever rules are in place on Dec 25'. This was in relation to previously saying she would break the COVID-19 rule of six at Christmas because it was unthinkable to leave an elderly relative on their own on Christmas Day. So her Christmas Day dining table would have seven people around it. I think many people faced with the same dilemma would do the same thing. Her mistake was saying so publicly. Putting it right required publicly saying she was wrong. Jeremy wasn’t prepared to go that far and so made the classic error of making a qualified apology by acknowledging  the problem and the hurt but adding he thought it had been 'exaggerated'. He may be right but an apology is not accepted as an apology if it is a qualified apology. So while Victoria will be left to get on with her arrangements for Christmas , Jeremy has kept the controversy alive.

There are plenty of parallels here for members and officers in local government. The first is if a mistake has been made, something was done that shouldn’t have been done or something that should have been done wasn’t then come clean early with a genuine apology, no excuses, a commitment to put it right and ensure it doesn’t happen again. This even thought you now have the full details, understand the circumstances and recognise that there were some factors at play outside of the control of staff and the complainant’s actions almost certainly  contributed to the mistake. Officers who fail to take this approach risk a far more time consuming process of appeals and negative publicity ultimately resulting in a critical finding from the ombudsman.

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