A COUNCIL has defended its decision to give workers motivational mugs emblazoned with "David Brent-style" slogans, despite an ongoing efficiency drive.

Darlington Borough Council distributed 2,000 mugs and 1,500 mouse mats to employees, in what council bosses said was an effort to communicate the management team's "shared values"with the workforce.

The merchandise, costing £3,835 of taxpayers' money, and bearing the slogan "Beyond Excellence to Leading Edge", has been derided by some council staff after recent job evaluations left some facing pay cuts.

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One council officer, who did not want to be named, was told he would take a £4,000 pay cut as part of the changes.

He said that following an appeal, the figure was reduced to £800.

Yesterday, he described the council's gesture as a slap in the face, and compared it to the management style of David Brent, from TV comedy The Office.

He said: "It sounds like classic David Brent speak. It is a disgrace. Nobody asked for these mugs, nobody needs them and nobody wants them.

"For four years, I have struggled through, pay grade by pay grade, and now it has all come unstuck for a mug and a mouse mat. I would rather have the money."

The row became public after an exchange from the "Ask Ada" internet blog on the council's internal website, where council chief executive Ada Burns speaks to employees, was leaked to The Northern Echo.

One worker posted: "Unfortunately, and on principle, in support of all those staff going through a time of uncertainty, I do not feel that I can accept the mug and mouse mat provided.

"Beyond Excellence to Leading Edge is incomprehensible as a term, and I am sure that the taxpayers of the town would be horrified to discover that the council is spending its resources in this way."

In reply, Mrs Burns posted: "I personally am quite happy justifying to our taxpayers why staff communication is a worthwhile - indeed vital - area of a relatively very modest spend."

One council worker on the site said staff morale was at an "all-time low", while another added: "It has come across as somewhat insensitive to spend money on mugs and mouse mats stating slogans such as 'putting people first' and 'giving value for money' when many of our staff are uncertain of their future, potentially not secure in their jobs and have been downgraded as a result of job evaluation."

Speaking yesterday, Mrs Burns defended the decision.

She said: "The idea of mugs and mouse mats came about because, with paper or email communication, it can be hard to reach all sections of our diverse workforce.

"This was a cost-effective way to help people know what the council is doing."