Former head of Birmingham’s social services tells graduates to ‘lead with potential’ as he receives top university honour


The former head of Birmingham’s social services has told graduates of the importance of leading with potential as he received a top university honour.

Watch Peter Hay's

Acceptance Speech

Peter Hay CBE was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by Birmingham City University to mark his longstanding commitment to social justice and improving the quality of life for second city residents, in a ceremony at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall.

Hay received the accolade alongside students graduating from the University’s Faculty of Health, Education and Life Sciences and celebrated Birmingham as he accepted his award.

He said: “Thank you for the honour of this degree, awarded for a profession I love, in the city we call our home.”

Addressing the audience, Hay went on to share his wisdom developed over a long career working in social services both in Grimsby and Birmingham and offered advice to students heading into careers in public services.

Citing Disney film Toy Story, he said there were lessons for public servants to take from the character Buzz Lightyear.

He said: “Buzz Lightyear’s dreams were shattered by the realisation that he was not an intergalactic space hero, but a toy. Buzz discovers he succeeds when he uses the skills and talents of those around him. Today’s public servants must similarly harness the power of others.

Hay’s career saw him play a central role in shaping Birmingham’s social services and helping its children’s services receive a star rating and its adult services receive a three star rating,

He told graduates of the importance of perseverance and leading by example in their future careers in the health, education and life sciences sectors. 

“As leaders of tomorrow, keep persevering, learning by doing, and knowing that when others think you are flying, you might be falling with style. Whatever or whoever is your Buzz who drives your dreams, hold on to your story to guide you.

“Our world needs courageous public servants like you, who see infinite possibility, are curious enough to explore questions that underpin today’s public services and work together to offer hope of something better.”

Returning to Buzz Lightyear, Hay said: “My final lesson from Buzz is that he knows the difference between flying and falling with style. Underneath public services there are complex questions about how children achieve, how we all stay safe and healthy, or grow old well. We don’t know all the answers. We need to lead by learning from improvisation and failure, which even at better times can feel like the edge of chaos.”

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