I have been asked to try to remember what has happened since I left school but intend to depart from that instruction in two ways. From 1942 to 1947 I was in the army but shall not deal with that period unless something in my peacetime career was strongly affected by military experience. Rather contradictorily I shall briefly mention my time at school because I believe the archive to which I am contributing has some interest in the part of Norwich where I grew up.
Starting work during Wartime
Early in 1939 I was interviewed when a vacancy arose in the City Treasurer’s office but was still too young. Leaving school in July 1939 I started work in the Corporation Electricity Department office in Duke Street. War had been declared on September 3rd and quite a few young men must have volunteered for the forces or have been called up and later that month the Deputy City Treasurer phoned to tell me that there were now vacancies and that I could join their staff if I was still interested.
I moved to the City Hall and did all the usual junior’s jobs. In 1940 France fell to the Germans and to make valuable documents less in danger of destruction in an air raid I joined many others at Earlham Hall, the fine old building in the park which is I believe now used by UEA. So many permanent officers had now left that young persons like me gained experience much more quickly than would have been the case. We worked long hours and in addition I and an older man who was unfit for military service guarded the place about once a week equipped with a ladder and a stirrup pump. Those were happy days and I also met a wide range of men and women as a tally board officer at the ARP (later called Civil Defence) control centre. Not pleasant for those directly affected but I was on duty on two of the three nights in 1942 when Norwich was heavily bombed.
My father had an interesting life. He was born in 1880, served in the Boer War and spent eight years in the USA. One thing he had never done or tried to do was make money and in 1947 he was a pensioner. If I tried to exist in London on a grant he would try to help me and my mother would suffer so I knew I must decline my place at LSE and return to the City Treasurer’s office and try to qualify as an accountant. Just about every chief financial officer in the public sector was a member of the Institute of Municipal Treasurers and Accountants (now the Chartered Institute of Public Finance – CPFA), and I at once enrolled as a student member. Examinations were held twice a year at three levels, Intermediate, Parts 1 and 2 of the Final. That mysterious experience I was said to have exempted me from the Intermediate if I was prepared to sit Part 2 Final without having taken easier papers in the same subjects first. Conceited, I suppose, but I never feared an examination so I took Part I Final at the first permitted time which was in August 1949 and was promoted modestly. I was in the Accountancy Section and very happy indeed spending as much time as possible with the girl I hoped to marry if she would have me.
Neither of us remembered a proposal, certainly no bended knee or seeking her mother’s approval. Her Dad had died four months before she was born and I believe her mother liked me. Now a partly qualified accountant, I was ready for promotion and S. and I had to have a serious talk. I have already said a bit about my father and must now say a lot more. He was a fine man, a true friend to the poor or handicapped. A member of the Board of Guardians and then from 1932 of the City Council, he had been Sheriff and in 1949 was still an alderman, a magistrate, a founder member of the East Anglian Regional Hospital Board, chairman of the city Health Committee, a representative of Norwich on the Association of Municipal Corporations, a member of the Valuation Panel, chairman of the Norwich Cooperative Society and probably others I have forgotten. Something all those positions have in common, none were paid anything, but he was a prominent man. S. and I knew that no matter how well I performed in the office or the examination room everyone would say, “Young J. only gets on because of his father’s influence.” So it was agreed that I must look for a post where my name meant nothing and that I would never leave Norwich without marrying S. and staying with her as long as we lived. An easy promise for me to make and keep and I am thankful to report that it was immediately accepted.
Not the first short list I had, but early in 1950 I secured a position as Junior Accountancy Assistant with Lindsey County Council whose offices were in Lincoln. Neither of us knew Lincoln but through a friend in the office we got one room in a house near the boundary of the city. Pickfords had delivered our clothes. That was all we possessed apart from old bicycles which we brought back with us when we went back to Norwich at Easter. We were happy and delighted when I finished my IMTA in January 1951 and was re-designated as a Senior Accountancy Assistant with a better grade of pay. By the time the result of the exam was known we knew that later in the year we would be parents so I promised to help as much as I could and defer plans for further qualifications.
My job was quite a big one and after I left Lindsey I was proud to learn that it was then being done by two qualified accountants. In Norwich I had been mainly an assistant to the man who looked after the Health Committee, Housing and from July 1948 until about Easter 1949 as agent for the newly formed Hospital Management Committees. My only personal responsibility was for Rating, Superannuation Fund and the apportionment of Central Establishment Charges. Now I had three men helping and between us we did all the financial work associated with Health Committee, Fire Brigade, Probation services for three counties and two county boroughs, now called Unitary Authorities. We paid all councillors’ expenses and I had to set up and run the accounts for Lindsey Blind Society, a large voluntary body subsidised by the county with workshops and a lot of domiciliary work. At first S. knew only a few colleagues at work and it would have been lonely in the flat if I had worked late regularly, so I took work home particularly at weekends. I remember the first time S. asked if she could help. She was in the top stream at her grammar school and I knew how bright she was, so we prepared the county budget for the services I looked after as a joint effort. To the end of her life she was proud of that and never stopped thanking me for trusting her implicitly. In today’s world she would have easily qualified with honours in a chosen profession.
I was not competent to judge the Treasurer as a professional because of the huge difference in our ages and experience. I can speak of the man and of the respect for him that I found when my duties took me into other departments. A country gentleman in exactly the right place. I remember the day when the Health Committee were to consider the estimate for the following year. My drafts had been sent to him for approval and to my surprise he said, “You have done all the work on these and you should get the credit. Go to your first meeting and present the figures. By the way, there is one member, a Major C, who is a bully. I have seen him reduce officers to gibbering idiots but I think you can handle him. You must tell him you represent me and that your figures are correct. Sensible questions will get a sensible answer but abuse will be ignored.” It transpired as Mr J. had forecast and I never had any more trouble with the irascible major.
I could not know it then but several years later the good relationship I had with Mr J. helped my career in at least two ways. Grimsby County Borough (now called unitary authorities) is the largest place in the whole of Lincolnshire and I had gone there as Deputy Treasurer in 1959, being promoted to Treasurer on January 1st 1962. Differences of opinion are bound to arise between county councils and large towns in their area and the members rely on their chief officers to bat for them. Sometimes the difference of opinion can get acrimonious but I believe members on both sides liked the manner in which Mr J. and I did our best for our employers. We worked hard but always with smiles and I knew that both of us would rather have lost than gained a victory by cutting corners or hitting below the belt.
The second story is more amazing and had greater benefits for me. Completely out of the blue I received a call from the head of one of the most respected firms in the City of London asking if he could come to see me. Of course I agreed and remembered that I had seen my guest’s name in the Society columns of the press. He did not come as a salesman but offered to act for Grimsby whenever we needed his type of expertise. I was grateful for help with Pension Fund and other investments particularly as his firm charged one eighth of the commissions charged by local brokers. Most of the time I did not deal with the Chief but with a senior partner closer to my own age. He took me to the old Stock Exchange, the Bank of England and to Rothschild’s from where we recruited a merchant banker to join my Chairman of Finance Committee, A., and me to act as an Investment Panel. The responsibility was still mine but advice from that level was usually taken.
Our backgrounds were different. Mile Cross School and a leading public school with similar differences in the case of our wives. We got on well and met at conferences, seminars and when I persuaded A. to come to North Lincolnshire to address our students. He and I talked shop and I think our better halves used to enjoy trying to decide who had the more stupid dog. No contest, our beagle was world champion. One day I decided to ask A. how it was that his revered boss had come to Grimsby as I knew by then that normally he only dealt with the posher counties and Birmingham. Apparently the head of firm visited Lincoln once a year and got on well with my old chief. In 1962 Mr J. had said, “I think you ought to go to Grimsby, one of my old assistants is Treasurer there now. You could work with him, his word is his bond.” A proud moment for me.
Moving to Nottingham
No doubt young men and women in all professions could tell of organisations, service with which would enhance their chance of promotion. An actor might wish that his or her CV could include a spell at the National Theatre and a doctor hoping to become a leading expert in the field of sick children would similarly think of having worked even in a junior capacity at Great Ormond Street. Local Government Finance in the fifties was like that and the prestigious authorities were Derbyshire and Hertfordshire county councils and Coventry and Nottingham, with Coventry having a slight lead because of the international repute of its City Treasurer. I was therefore delighted when I was offered a position as a Technical Assistant in the Nottingham office. Mind you, a lot of friends who I used to meet at IMTA meetings told me that nothing on earth would induce them to work for the tyrannical boss.
He was a bully and had no small talk or apparent interest in anything other than work. My bit of luck was having been at Lindsey where the daughter he doted on was a Child Care officer. C’s duties took her out of county offices so I rarely saw her but her boy friend was very close to one of my assistants. W. was what is known as “a bit of a lad” and I think J. had doubts about him as a son-in-law. Several Monday mornings I would be first on parade and not grilled on some technical matter but told that the young couple had spent Sunday in Nottingham and “What do you think of young W?” I was not going to blacken his name or spoil love’s young dream but I did get to talk to the ogre as to any other parent who was worried about his child.
The real shock came when one Friday afternoon I took a call from our old family doctor telling me to come to Norwich at once because my father might die that night. I went directly to the boss, told him the news and said I would have to go and stay with my mother until the funeral. Even now roads are poor between Nottingham and Norwich but they were much worse in 1955 and Mr B was not a young man. I had a difficult job persuading him not to drive there and back that night and he was genuinely sad when on my return I told of Dad’s death on his 75th birthday and burial on my 31st. I should not really have been surprised but ought to have thought of a much fiercer man I had served with. An old Cameronian Sergent Major was RSM of the artillery regiment I joined with my small detachment of Royal Signals. At first he abused us, mocked us and cursed the fates which had put him in charge of such a hopeless bunch of men. I knew of only one way of dealing with him and we became the best unit in the brigade with the RSM as our greatest admirer. He was the finest soldier I ever met and I ought never again to have made hasty judgements.
Before I tell of my duties I must say something about the move to Nottingham and how it influenced our family life. I had to give a month’s notice to Lindsey CC and found digs to move into until I could rent somewhere for my wife and child to come to. The housing shortage was dreadful, made worse by the decision of the Government to decentralise a number of departments. Civil servants, who probably did not want to move, were given relocation packages which pushed up the price of property. When I started work, going home on Saturday afternoon until early on Monday each week I spent any free evenings house hunting, walking miles to follow up press notices. We had both been delighted when S. was born but my wife thought it was to please her that I had now wrecked my career after studying so hard. She thought that because when it looked as though we were going to be really homeless I had said, “At worst I will tell my boss that sorry as I am, family always comes first and we are going back to lodge with my mother-in-law. We had never taken a penny from anyone but now principles must be set aside. I could get a deposit from a friend of my father and contacts from school and cricket would, I was sure, get us a larger mortgage than was customary. This family will never split up.” I do not know if she believed me but at least the tears stopped, and I went back to the office to see what A. W. (O C Rating) had produced. Here I introduce another man who has played a big part in my life.
E. G. was the Senior Technical Assistant, another man and I were equally graded, but E. had been a Deputy Borough Treasurer many years earlier when for some reason he had opted for the very different type of duties in Nottingham. His name was known throughout the profession as the Institute’s expert on taxation which was very important to the cities in those days when they had trading undertakings and had to pay on all the five Schedules of the Income Tax Acts. We shared the same office and when I went back he said he had heard of my problem. In fact the whole department was talking about it, but he could help if we would for the time being share his house. Some time ago the city had recruited a Chief Constable who had ten children and as they very much wanted him to join them they bought a big house in the Sherwood district. Mr P. left the house when he bought his own and E. with M. and three sons now rented it. They had plenty of space and would love to help us. Back to S. I went after I had arranged for the furniture to be moved to Sherwood the following morning. No more talk of job hunting in Norwich or trying to get favours from old friends, but S. was not fully confident about M’s willingness to share her house with another woman. We need not have worried, M. introduced S. to the City Treasurer’s badminton club in winter and tennis club in summer, made us a hot meal on the Sunday when we cycled from Lynn in torrential rain, and very occasionally baby sat for us. The three clever boys were good with our baby and her first word was not “Daddy” but “Boys”. Back in 1950 in the first month of our marriage by the light of an angle poise lamp while my new bride slept I entered for a national essay competition organised by NALGO, the local government officers’ union. I won the prize but discovered that I did not get cash but vouchers for further education. I used those vouchers and just in case I ever fancied the private sector also enrolled with the Association of Certified and Corporate Accountants, to sit their final exams in December 1954 and 1955. Once again I was exempt from Intermediate exams, I still do not know why but I was grateful. For the CCA I had no course but relied on my earlier studies, practical experience and the public library for subjects like Executorship, Receivership and the accounts of Holding Companies. The CCA exams could be taken in Nottingham but I had to travel each day to Leicester University College, whose students also took London University exams, for the BSc Economics. I enjoyed it although the reading list was daunting and I did the whole lot in about as much time as university students who were not doing a full time job with overtime or trying to be a good father.
The work of a technical assistant
So at last, what does a technical assistant do? Whatever the boss asks him to do and when I went to work I never knew what I should be doing later in the day. There were a few regular tasks which I had to perform. Read Hansard and reports of Parliamentary Committees each week and signal to the Treasurer anything which might affect Nottingham. Despite the presence of E. I did the tax and we had every possible service, even including the running of a pub and a farm, plus large petrol and trolley bus services and water supply to many parts of the county. I must have been satisfactory because I was offered fellowship of the Institute of Taxation, but did not think it right to be a member without having taken their exams. Later in my career I was less rigid and because I had given lectures, conference papers and written many articles, I was persuaded to add the Rating and Valuation Association and the Chartered Institute of Transport to the letters I could print after my name, but seldom did. As I said, most of the time I and my two colleagues had to drop what we were doing to give the Treasurer a report on problems which might arise in a letter from an MP, a story in the media or a contentious issue coming up at a committee. Just over three years so I cannot remember all the topics but just a few examples. Working with the Assistant Treasurer in the Water Department to devise a new, more rational, scale of charges, similar tasks for the markets and council houses, querying the way the Government were dealing with grants for welfare homes, financial consequences of abolishing trolley buses, etc. etc. I had had a foretaste when I was interviewed for the job by Mr B. and his deputy. It took all day and at about 6p.m. I had to run to the GPO and send a telegram to tell the Borough of Eastbourne that I would not be turning up for an interview two days later. At first we were about eight, then four and finally just the two of us. Quite unexpectedly he asked me to verbally draft a report to him on how to deal with an expensive claim from a garage to which access had been blocked by major road works. After I started work I discovered that he had used me and presumably my rival on a current problem which was still on his desk.
This has been a long section and I could have written so much more. In many ways it challenged me mentally more than any other job and with a fantastic home life I was happy in my slum home. At the same time I remembered that when I was appointed I had been told that everyone who had held the same position had gone on to become chief officers somewhere and I knew that fascinating work would not be enough, I needed to gain experience of staff control and prove not just that I was competent but that I could lead others to perform well, so with mixed feelings I started to look for the right sort of move.
I think most of my friends would say that I am a sceptic. If a product is widely advertised on television my instinctive reaction is to say, “There must be something wrong with that or it is not selling very well.” It follows therefore that I was always hard to recruit into any organisation which demanded its members to have faith without evidence. It was also true that until recently I hardly ever remembered a dream, but about the time I was hoping for another move I awoke from a dream in which I saw nobody, nothing happened but it was graphically clear and I knew for certain that I had never in my life seen the tall structure rising out of the fog. Just one more dream like it but that has nothing to do with my career. Shortly after the earlier dream I was short listed for the post of Chief Accountant in York, a city I had never set foot in and knew little about. I arrived the day before my interview in thick fog and as I reached my hotel felt my eyes being drawn upwards and there was the West Front of York Minster exactly as it had been in the dream. Apart from the fog that view would be the one I had from my office for almost four years.
Of course I was appointed and so began my relationship with one of the finest men I have ever known. One of the attractions of the job was a three bedroomed house on the Northern boundary of the city, only about a mile from the centre, as York extends much further in other directions. The property was semi-detached, had a decent sized garden, beyond the back fence were playing fields of Bootham, the Quaker boys public school. Seems hardly worth mentioning now but how thrilled we were to get a small refrigerator and a lock-up garage. We were to pay a full economic rent for five years after which if still there we would have paid like our neighbours a reduced sum with Government and local subsidies. The argument being that by then we would have served our time on the waiting list. That seems to me to be a fair system if staff have to be recruited from away. One day while at Nottingham serving my period of notice I took a phone call from Mr B. L., the city Treasurer of York. He asked if I was still coming to his office on a certain date and I said “Yes”, expecting to go into lodgings until the house was vacant. He told me that he and his deputy had had the property thoroughly cleaned and he had personally been to check that the work had been done. I expressed my surprise and pleasure to which he simply said, “J., life is short and I would never separate husband and wife.” At first it sounds almost over the top but that was the man, the kindest, most considerate officer one could ever meet.
I soon found out that if I wanted to gain experience of man management I could not have found a better job. They had a lot of committees and Mr L. and his Deputy looked after them and generally dealt with the councillors. So long as I alerted the boss to any serious problems I would run the department which included the rent collectors, printing for the whole authority and such oddments as manning turnstiles at York racecourse (the Ascot of the North or as locals said, Ascot is the York of the South) and looking after the hordes of schoolchildren who visited the city in summer. I wondered if north of the Trent any of them actually attended school. Some things were printed professionally and I spent a lot of time at the nearby printing works with that strange officer “the father of the chapel” to whom I would take amended committee estimates after an evening meeting and from whom I collected revised versions ready to despatch to members first thing next morning. The Abstract of Accounts, a huge document showing how every penny had been spent and how all capital expenditure had been financed was also dealt with at the same works. Of course, in addition to staff control, handling temporary vacancies, etc. in all sections I was directly in charge of the qualified staff and stayed in the evenings to help them balance the annual accounts
A more pleasant story about committees. After I had been there about six months a deputation came to see me to advise me that all the other qualified men were submitting an application to be upgraded and would like me to join them. I said I could not because I had accepted my terms of appointment, had not been in the post long enough to progress to the top of my grade and had no complaints. The morning after the Finance sub-committee meeting the Treasurer had a message for me (actually we usually met each morning for me to keep him in the picture). All the applications had been rejected but my post had been redesignated Assistant City Treasurer with higher grade. Truly my dream had foretold much happiness.
I think I have already referred to IMTA meetings. Chief officers had regional branches at which topical problems were aired. Very useful for treasurers of small district councils who might have no qualified assistants or subject specialists. I hope I have already suggested that Mr L. was a highly respected man and he had been made Secretary or Convenor in the North East, Scottish border to Derbyshire. I think I was fortunate when he asked me to attend those monthly meetings, write the minutes and generally help him. Still quite a young man I met and discussed financial matters with some of the leaders of my profession. I had one other new experience. NALGO had asked me to chair their Public Relations Committee so when the City Council decided to pioneer Joint Staff Meetings by setting one up in York I served as Staff Side Representative and I believe we served the ratepayers well.
I hope I have conveyed how much I loved York and, although I have not named them, I knew that when we moved on I should miss splendid colleagues. I have referred to a Chairman of Finance Committee, a Councillor Durkin who was the best one I ever worked with. One last story about him explains in an oblique way why in 1959 I was again moving on.
Much later at the time of reorganisation, Councillor D. rang me in my office in Liverpool and told me that the Chief Executive of York had been appointed to the top job in the new North Yorkshire County Council, and at a Group Meeting it had been decided that I should be approached to see if I would return as their new Chief Officer. I had loved York, liked the citizens and was honoured but I could not accept. If they were prepared to have an accountant as top man why not their own Treasurer who had been Deputy when I had served as the third man? That had of course been discussed and the preference was for me so I put to them an offer which I did not expect them to accept. They must tell R. that in the reorganised authority the council wanted someone with recent experience elsewhere and would not appoint anyone at present serving their city. If R. knew he would have to be the City Treasurer with a new Chief Executive he would probably be content to work with me but otherwise I could not expect a good man who had been my superior officer to serve under me.
It was customary for anyone appointed to a post to give an unwritten promise to stay at least two years, although my immediate superior at York had not honoured his gentleman’s agreement. R., who was otherwise a fine man and a good friend had been Chief Accountant for many years until he left to become Deputy Treasurer of a non county borough in the north west. Almost at once the then deputy became City Treasurer of Cambridge and R. came back. An amazing character who had been leading man in the local operatic productions and who was the life and soul of any party but he was obviously a problem to me. One day Mr L. would retire and R. ought to succeed him but no sensible council would then promote me with the strong likelihood that one day both of us would retire in the same year. So if I wished to gain further promotion I had better look for a vacancy – not going to be many which would appeal to me. I had decided that non county boroughs and district councils did not have a wide enough range of responsibilities to keep me interested, which meant a county or a county borough. At best probably three vacancies in a year.
In the summer of 1959 I was interviewed by the Finance Committee in Grimsby together with, I think, seven other candidates and was successful. Many friends seemed to sympathise, perhaps because of the “grim” part of the town’s name. It is true that after Norwich, Lincoln and York, Grimsby did seem to be a bit “workaday” but it seemed to have some attractive areas, rather more than York. However, my start was inauspicious. I got a letter from J. B. who obviously kept a fatherly eye on his former technical assistants. Congratulating me on my promotion, he wondered if I knew that my new employers had a bad reputation for the way they treated senior officers. A bit of a puzzle made more ominous when one of the town’s most senior chief officers went out of his way to warn me to watch my back when dealing with a certain important person. This to a young deputy who had been in post about a month.
Here I am on a sticky wicket. As this story progresses it will be seen that I eventually moved on because I disapproved of the way some other people had been treated and after he had retired I persuaded the old Chief Officer to explain his cryptic remark which fully explained Mr B.’s warning. At the same time I must emphasise that nobody seriously threatened me although twice I had to show my claws and perhaps they thought better of it. More seriously, the villain is not alive to defend himself and I was not in Grimsby when the alleged injustice had been perpetrated, in fairness to the family of the accused I disclose no name or clues to his identity.
The Treasurer had been in office since 1942 and systems had not been changed since his arrival. He was difficult and after J. J. and B. L. I found his refusal to take even his deputy into his confidence strange and disappointing. He ran a tight ship and only had one other qualified officer, a local man who had been there from schooldays, on his staff. The council had a lot of committees, some of which spawned several sub-committees and G. B. saw it as his duty to attend them all. Impossible of course because on some evenings there were simultaneous meetings and then I had my first real experience of being here as the financial advisor. He had one bad habit. Lunch break began at 12.30 and so often he would ring for me at about 12.30 and the meal that S. had made for me and our children had to be put back in the oven for me. The internal auditors never left the office as he wanted to see with his own eyes that they were actually at work. All over the town capital works costing millions were in progress and the so called auditors never went near them. His secretary told me how wonderful it was now that had a deputy who got on so well with the boss they all feared. I had to laugh as I thought he hated me and I despised him. With hindsight I realise that I was wrong. What I was witnessing was fear, the sort citizens have in totalitarian countries. He knew more of the murky past than I ever would and unlike me he had no large circle of IMTA friends all over the Midlands and the North East of England.
What about the town and its people? I liked it then and I still do. I never felt safer and there was very little crime. A few drunken sailors and a lot of tobacco smoke but at that time if the drinkers and smokers only hurt themselves we tolerated them. Shortly after we arrived S. and I were having afternoon tea in a cafe and my wife said, “Have you noticed how sad and drawn the local ladies look?” I hadn’t but she was right, particularly compared to the smiling ladies of York who always seemed aware of their good fortune. Later when civic duties took me to services in the parish church the reason for the worried women became clear. Almost every week prayers were said for the souls of Grimsby fishermen who had been lost at sea. It was the most dangerous of all occupations, worse than building construction and coal mining. The trawlers were up in the Arctic or off Iceland for two weeks, in port for about two days, then off again.
My two years was up in 1961 and now I could aspire to a chief’s job but I knew that there were a lot of other deputies just as good or better than me and I might never make it. I must tell of one short list which amuses me now but did not seem funny at the time. Cardiff decided to interview on December 27th and we were with my mother-in-law in Norwich so I had to leave them on Boxing Day and via London go to the Welsh capital with its fine civic centre. As I sat in the anteroom before our interviews the councillors came in to take their seats and one after another said, “You must be the Englishman.” Obviously I was the token listed to show how free from racial bias they were. All the others were Welsh and a local man was appointed. As I am sure it was all cut and dried, why disturb my Christmas, which was very short?
That little story must relate to a later year, now I go back to the summer of 1961. Not a chief’s job but Deputy County Treasurer of Berkshire was attractive, although counties invariably recruited from other counties. Large ports and leading holiday resorts had similar recruiting habits. I was unsuccessful and took the family from Reading to tour Devon and Cornwall. First day back at work as I entered the council offices the Town Clerk told me that Mr B. had surprised everybody by handing in his notice of retirement at a Finance Committee meeting. He had been expected to serve another five years and had said in committee (no press present in those days) that his deputy had gone on a short list which would be unsuccessful but that before long he would get a chief’s job and Grimsby would lose the man who ought to succeed him. So as in Cardiff the top class men who came to our shortlist never stood a chance and from January 1st 1962 I could move into his magnificent office complete with personal toilet, safe, etc.
Public sector pay was traditionally low, but we had the satisfaction of giving service. The promotion from deputy to chief was the only time pay really improved significantly because deputies were paid two thirds of their chief’s salary. Now we could move to a better house, trade in our old car for a new one, a 1200cc Ford Cortina which took us all over the British Isles and much of Europe. There was a lot to do but I had very devoted staff who supported my changes and the council were also willing to let me bring in a few bright young qualified men and to take a much more active part in the life of the town and the IMTA. For the latter I attended Branch Meetings, which G. B. had usually scorned, and wrote regular articles for the IMTA Students’ Society magazine. The Institute put me on committees and in due course with council support I formed a Joint Computer Committee withScunthorpe and located the computer in Grimsby. I was made Treasurer of the Grimsby and Cleethorpes Joint Transport Committee and Deputy Chief Executive in which capacity I chaired a panel which vetted all proposals for capital expenditure before they were put to committees. I rewrote the authority’s Financial Regulations, after which it was not necessary for me to attend all the committees but from choice I still went to the major spenders. Twenty nights a month came down to about eight and it gave my young men a chance to get known by the councillors and show how good they were. I was less enthusiastic about a ten week course at Birmingham University. Good fellow students from all over the country and all types of professions but I would rather have been at my desk, which I was every Saturday. Being honest, I was just homesick and missed my family which now included a second son. I realised now how much worse military service had been for married men. I am going to digress again and tell of Robert’s birth. It was in October 1966 so I had been in the town for over seven years and the members of the Finance Committee knew me well, but I am sure they did know that their 42 year old treasurer and his 40 year old wife, who unlike Mrs B. had been taken to every civic function, were going to add to their family. I had to attend Finance Committee and knew that a healthy boy had been born so when I turned up at the Town Hall I put the chairman in the picture, explained why I had brought my deputy with me and asked him if he would take first about six items on which I wished to speak. Members look puzzled, but when he said, “I have taken those items because our treasurer has to leave us now. S. has just presented him with a son” those hard bitten Grimbarians stood and applauded me as I left the room. No wonder I like the place.
What did taking a larger part in the life of the town mean? I was very soon invited to join Rotary and was branch secretary for seven years, S. joined Inner Wheel in which club she played good standard bridge when the children did not need her personal care all day every day, we both joined a fine golf club but could not play much, I became Treasurer of the Lincolnshire branch of the Historical Association and of some charities. I organised treasure hunts and felt guilty as with a top class navigator and two bright clue solvers in the back seats we usually won. We went to dances although I knew that I would never be a great exponent as I had been classed as a disabled soldier with nasty foot problems. We were even present at an exciting “Come Dancing” programme on television. I gave lectures, supported the services for Junior and Senior mentally handicapped. There were parties and all together a wonderful social life. I once remarked on this to an old councillor who explained that until the railway came Grimsby was cut off. The Humber to the north, the North Sea to the east and only two not very good roads over the Wolds. They had to get on together and make their own entertainment.
In 1969 things that I did not like were happening to my colleagues. I am not going to give details but my unhappiness became obvious and senior aldermen and councillors told me that if I made an issue of it saying publicly that I would only stay if major changes were made I would have won the battle. Perhaps I would have done but I respected most of my political masters and the ladies, and was proud of how the town had been improved. To reveal a split would do untold damage and no way could I contemplate that, so with many friends paying tribute we moved again. One trivial thing touched me. I never played golf more than once a week, often not for a month but before we left the club captain told me that I would always be able to play with no green fee as long as I lived. Another happy memory of the time in my life when I think I did my best work at my physical and mental peak.
The Transport Act of 1968 created Passenger Transport Authorities and Passenger Transport Executives in a number of conurbations, Birmingham, Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle. Note that the names of the new bodies showed that their remit went outside the main city. For example the PTA located in Manchester was called SELNEC, which is short for South East Lancashire and North East Cheshire. The authorities would be appointed by the Minister of Transport from local authorities, university, industry and other organisations prominent in the area. Major policy decisions such as sanctioning new capital expenditure, taking off services, and fare increases had to be approved by the Authority who appointed the Executive and fixed their salaries. The PTE ran the show, owned all the assets and had total control of the staff. I think it was a brilliant concept and regret very much that, much as I support our democratic system, I do regret that when a government falls their successors often repeal what the last government created.
The particular post that interested me was Director of Finance and Administration for Merseyside PTE. There were to be four directors. A Chief Executive who had been Transport Manager in Liverpool and who was known and respected far beyond Great Britain, a Director of Operations, also a former Transport Manager, a Director of Resource Planning recruited from London Transport and, I hoped, me. The job title shows that the holder will be more than just the Chief Financial Officer which in itself was no sinecure. I got the post and had to start work on April 1st 1970 but A Levels for S. and O Levels for P. meant that they and S. could not move until July. The weekly journeys across the country on Friday evenings and Sunday afternoons were a menace and I was told that on Fridays R. just refused to settle down to sleep until he knew I was home. There were advantages. The workload was horrendous but with no family commitments I could work late into the evenings or go house hunting. The day I started work, S. and R. came with me to the office (we both had cars by then) and a driver took us round the area. There was then only one tunnel under the Mersey and we ruled out at once a home in the Wirral, attractive as the district is. We ruled out South Liverpool, Southport and Formby as being too far from my office and it was agreed that my search would be in Crosby which is where I got lodgings. Eventually I found a semi-detached house in a lovely part of Crosby near the Northern Club which has top class hockey and cricket matches.
The job was all I had expected. We ran over 1,500 buses from Southport to St Helen’s, ferries across the Mersey and controlled as our agents British Rail and National Bus services in our area. Reaching agreements with the senior officers of those bodies was fascinating and I developed great respect for the dedicated managers of British Rail. We constructed extensions to our underground railway including a new station in Liverpool and also road rail interchanges. We employed 6,500 and had large workshops where Liverpool used to build their famous green goddess trams. At first I had to make arrangements with the City Treasurer of Liverpool to pay wages and to use his computer until we could recruit our own staff and buy the equipment. There were inevitably many meetings at the Ministry and with the other Directors of Finance, none of whom came from the same background as me. With my opposite number in Manchester we created two private companies which made a lot of money for our authorities. One sold tokens to local authorities who gave them to pensioners for concessionary travel, that eventually went nationwide. The other company did not last long but was good while it lasted. I had spotted an article stating that British Rail had devised with merchant bankers a clever scheme which gave them tax advantages when they bought new rolling stock. D. and I were off to the City of London and we were in business. The Inland Revenue have some bright officers and they soon had a bill in Parliament stopping our little game. Our profits only benefited our passengers, nothing for D. and me. I wish the Revenue were as adept at other types of tax avoidance. Both companies benefited from the willingness of Sir Harry Page, City Treasurer of Manchester to be our chairman.
One snag of being based on Merseyside was the militant labour force. Strikes in one part or another of the undertaking were common and emergency meetings at the weekend not unusual, but as human beings they were very likeable. I was in charge of a double decker bus full of male and female employees who showed the flag for about ten days as we toured Belgium. I still attended IMTA meetings, in Preston now, and nationally chaired the Institute’s public authority committee. My name must have got known and I was invited to present a paper to the Annual Conference of the Passenger Transport Association. I chose for my title, “Don’t be frightened of a dirty word”, the word in question being “subsidy”. The gist was that not everyone would ever have a car and that as numbers of passengers declined fares would rise with serious consequences for the old, the handicapped and the young not yet allowed to drive. The paper recognised that operators could not be given blank cheques and I devised a formula to make us efficient in order to earn grants. The audience in the Grand Hotel Eastbourne were enthusiastic except for the front row. The Minister of Transport, his Permanent Secretary and a phalanx of lesser civil servants were breathing fire and later in the day at a banquet the Minister for about twenty minutes took his revenge. I could not have cared less. I had survived my old RSM and J. B. but, more important, six weeks earlier S.had survived a major operation and she was there with me being treated like a queen by the delegates. What did I care about politicians?
Pretty happy again and representing the industry at the Treasury, Customs and Excise and sometimes in Parliament to be grilled by committees. So had I at last stopped wandering? No, so why not? That habit of changing legislation again. A new government could not leave PTAs alone but decided that from April 1974 Local Government would be reorganised. MPTE would in future answer to Merseyside Metropolitan County Council and I would be a a sort of Assistant County Treasurer. I had been on two of the steering committees preparing for the great day, Finance and Transport, so I knew who was retiring and the rules about ring fencing appointments. The City Treasurer and a good man in Birkenhead were taking early retirement so I applied to the Ministry for similar terms intending to come to Norwich and offer my services as external auditor for the new authorities being created here. I was told I could not as my post was unaffected; not quite how I saw it. Nothing against the young man appointed by Merseyside to whom my budgets and reports would have to go. In Grimsby I would not have thought him quite up to what I would have recruited as a deputy, so I decided to try to make just one more move although my youngest would miss his trips to Anfield to watch the unbeatable Reds. The other two were 23 and nearly 21 so they were not likely to be with us much anyway and S. and I had a simple philosophy. The world has two places – Norfolk and not Norfolk. If we are not in Norfolk but we are together it does not make much difference where we are.
Like the Transport Act of 1968 the Water Act of 1973 proposed sweeping changes including the creation of new powerful bodies with wide ranging responsibilities.
As is normal, a Secretary of State was to be in supreme command but he would discharge his duties through a National Water Council and Regional Water Authorities, eight in England and one for Wales. I will not describe the set-up in detail but simply say that the NWC were to have a former Minister as Chairman and a small staff to coordinate the regional authorities, run training and research centres and handle pay negotiations. The regional bodies would be in charge of water resources and supply, sewerage and sewage disposal, land drainage, river quality, fisheries and at their discretion recreational activities. For the first time the suppliers of drinking water taken from rivers would also be controlling those rivers. The single exception was the decision to leave the private water companies alone. They issued preference shares and did not pay dividends and in some areas such as Bristol and Newcastle were powerful bodies. In 1973 the new authorities began advertising vacancies for new senior officers and I decided that I would have a shot because I had enjoyed those early days in Liverpool. To turn up and find a desk, two chairs and some empty filing cabinets, with just a rather nervous secretary to help is a stimulating experience. Add to that a deadline which must be met and the challenge is exciting.
Back to Yorkshire
The Government or the NWC had made an important decision about short lists. Realising that some people would apply for more than one post, the rule was that anyone offered a post would have his name removed from all subsequent short lists. I applied for three jobs as Director of Finance, making incorrect assumptions about the location of regional headquarters. Anglian would surely be in Norwich, Yorkshire RWA had to be destined for York and Southern I thought would go to Winchester but hoped it might be Bournemouth. The actual choices were Huntingdon, Leeds and Worthing, but off I went to the Horseguards Hotel just off the Thames Embankment on all three lists, but the Yorkshire interview was to come first. Among the hopefuls I saw many familiar faces and knew that competition would be tough. The outcome was four IMTA men and five chartered accountants from the private sector. I had faced many different kinds of interviewing panel but this was different and I had no idea who the members were. Now I know that the NWC Chairman was the gracious head of the panel, senior civil servants and his own Director General assisted him and that pugnacious little man I fell out with was the Chairman designate of Yorkshire Water. He will appear again in my story, J.C. B. a former Director of ICI, at that time our biggest company. He had many fine qualities but charm was not one of them. I don’t think he really understood it himself but he suddenly barked at me, “If we appoint you what rate of return on all the Authority’s assets will you include in fixing charges?” I told him I had no belief in that system at all and my recommendation would be to break even and finance new capital works but otherwise keep charges to the people of Yorkshire as low as possible. I thought he was going to break a blood vessel and was wondering what the next interview would be like but the Treasury Line must have been unpopular with Lord Nugent and the Department of the Environment because I was appointed and so on a difficult note began the last and most important stage in my career.
I used to try to spend one day a week in Leeds and gathered together the accountants I would inherit from the Water Departments of large cities like Leeds and Sheffield, the River Authority and a motley collection of Drainage Boards, Catchment Boards, etc. I think we were absorbing over ninety bodies, not all of whom had any qualified staff but there were some good men and I was soon setting out programmes of work which would enable me to finalise a budget and recommend charges by March 1974. The Authority already existed and decisions had been taken about the structure which would have eight divisions for water and sewage disposal, one Land Drainage Division for the whole region dealing with river quality, fisheries, etc. For the time being we would employ the local authorities to look after sewers. We would be serving four and a half million customers and employing about 6,500 men and women. In due course the public would expect charges to be the same all over our region but the inherited differences which often reflected different standards meant that if I proposed a single set of tariffs we would have riots, so I went for equalisation within a division, which produced quite enough complaints. By March I had appointed three Assistant Directors, made arrangements with the National Coal Board to do our data processing until we could get our own computer, and drawn up establishments for head office and divisional finance sections. Fortunately, Army experience had made me well aware of the difficulties of being in a divisional unit with two bosses, a local director and a technical superior miles away in a senior formation. All that was still ahead when I left Crosby one morning to present my budget proposals and ran into totally unexpected flak from a formidable source. B. O’B., Chairman of Wakefield Metropolitan District Finance Committee, was an official of the Miners Union who had taken on Arthur Scargill, so he was not afraid of me. He became an MP, a splendid ally, and the writer from the Commons of a touching letter when I was bereaved. He was not on my side that day and asked me what rate of interest I had assumed for all our new borrowing in 1974/1975. I told him and then received a dressing down for not being aware of what the Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer had said about interest rates in a recent speech. Were the members really going to let this accountant from the wrong side of the Pennines overrule the Government? Half the members were councillors from major authorities and obviously he had support. I had already crossed swords with JC and did not expect much help from him but he growled, “What does the Director of Finance say to that?” I replied, “The Director of Finance does not think that if interest rates rise and a year from now you are looking at a deficit in your accounts and the prospect of horrendous increases in charges, the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be here to apologise. You ladies and gentlemen will make the decision but if you support Councillor O’B. you must record my objection in the minutes; I have given you my best professional advice.” I won the vote but the atmosphere at lunch was frosty and when I got home and S. asked me how I had got on, not for the first time I said, “I am not sure that I still have a job.” Of course I made a lot of friends as neither B. nor JC were universally popular.
In January we moved in the middle of petrol rationing, power cuts and in some jobs a three-day week. If I go into detail this section of my story will be too long so I will skip to the series of stormy meetings which I attended all over Yorkshire to explain our charges. Naturally what we were demanding was compared with the old water rate but more than half of our charges had been in the local rates or county precept. Generally speaking, I was listened to politely but once or twice it got rough and nowhere more than at a small place in the Selby area. The chairman was the local conservative MP Sir Paul Bryan, who I had never met before. The Chief Executive of the local council sat beside me and spoke briefly then I made my speech. A pugnacious man in the front row set about me in a personal attack and then told the audience, “Just refuse to pay.” The local man told me my critic was a retired colonel and Chairman of the magistrates in that district. He had gone too far and I was angry. I told him that I understood that his career had been in a disciplined service and that he now administered justice. Had he allowed his soldiers to ignore valid orders and in court was a defendant excused if he said he did not support that particular law? I said he should be ashamed of trying to persuade others to break the law. In a whisper that could be heard all over the room Sir Paul said “Well said, Mr B.” and the audience applauded me. I was not always as lucky but remembered when Sir Paul’s obituary was in the Daily Telegraph.
In 1976 we had the drought, made worse by low rainfall in 1975 and a dry winter. Our reservoirs were low in April which was a warning signal. Our grid, which now enables water to be moved from a river like the Derwent, which always seems to be in good order, to the thirsty cities of West Yorkshire, was not yet completed and there was little we could do but prepare for the worst. We had a Corporate Management Team which met every Monday with our Chief Executive, A. B., in the chair. I remember he sent me with a Division Director to get permission from a major landowner to lay temporary pipes across his land to create a sort of mini-grid. One day in September we assembled to support A. and start using the standpipes at midnight. Car washes, etc. had been banned for a long time but as we looked out of the window it was pouring down. A. told us that he would not give the order as he would be thought mad and he was right, it rained for months up there. Denis Howell, the old football referee, had been made Minister for the Drought and superstitious people gave him credit for the last minute reprieve. Now for something completely different.
When I took the job I had every intention of doing it until I retired between 1984 and 1989. We had by 1977 made noticeable improvements to our services and hostility had very much lessened although the Yorkshire Evening Post did not like any public authority. I got on well with members of the authority, my fellow Directors and Finance Directors in other regions. We had our computers and apart from the tragic death in his thirties of my youngest Assistant Director my department was happy and efficient. The Authority met on the second Wednesday every second month and the preceding afternoon the Chief Executive asked each of his colleagues to go in turn to familiarise him with any papers being presented by any of them the following day. The Chairman might ask A. to introduce the item and it made sense to ensure that A. did not misinterpret the proposal. I remember so clearly how as we talked together A. said how happy he was with the best job in Yorkshire. He’d formerly been Manager in Sheffield, now his duties took him all over that lovely region. Next morning when I arrived the Chairman who usually arrived between 9 a.m. and 9.30 was already there and called me in to tell me that A.’s retirement would be announced at the Authority meeting. I took it for granted that our Director of Operations or another well respected engineer would be our new chief. On the last day for applications A. said members wanted me to apply. So I did in a two sentence application and in due course was appointed. Nobody was more surprised than me and JC never expressed his delight although most of the time we pulled in the same direction. Major B. A. was an ex MP, a chairman of the old River Board and a member of the former North Riding County Council. A kind, courteous country landowner with whom I became very friendly. Once when we were alone and he had known me long enough to be sure I would not be offended, he asked me if I knew why I had been appointed. I said I had often wondered and his explanation amused me. In his opinion the world is divided into bishops and bookies. JC was the most extreme example of a bookie. A. B. had been a bishop and our Director of Operations and our top lawyer were similar. I was the only one who had stood up to our chairman and who if appointed would not be afraid to point out his errors. I told T. that I now knew it was my roughness that had got me the best job I ever had.
I enjoyed attending conferences in Paris and Zurich which were truly international, even including communist China; meetings with the European Bank, giving papers to conferences and being put in charge of management development for the industry. That and service on the employer side of all the joint negotiating committees were onerous extra duties including too many in London and too many later nights but like A. B. I never tired of visiting our installations and being so proud of dedicated fellow employees. My wife was a constant support and in time of real distress like the floods she was a welcome helper known in many parts of Yorkshire as J.’s best assistant.
I really must close by telling of the last day of my working life. In 1983 when the industry was reorganised the Government made me a member of the new board as well as Chief Executive and I could sign up for one to six years. I knew that as in Transport, party politics was going to change Water in a way I could not welcome. My fellow Chief Execs said, “Surely you will not retire just before your salary would be trebled.” Remembering my father who did so much for no financial reward I signed for one year and still did all I could for the people of Yorkshire. In my last month I was honoured with celebrations all over the place and on the very last night present and past members and senior officers of the Authority, with their wives, assembled in a large inherited building at the head of a lonely dale. Part way up that dale we owned a property occupied by an employee whose essential kit included snowshoes and whose wife fed VIP visitors who we put up in the house. I had been there before in the second best room but that night S. and I had the best with its view over the beautiful reservoir and its surrounding flowering shrubs. After a dinner and some tributes to me I had to reply and the Devil was in me. Of course I spoke of our early days and almost universal unpopularity and how with the help of past and present officers the authority had become a respected and useful feature of life in the region. I recalled Division Directors and Head Officer managers who had died and then at last got to our chairmen who I said reminded me of the Wars of the Roses. Like our royalty, first we were sent from Lancashire JC B. who they all remembered, then dear D. M., a Yorkshireman through and through. But what happened at the end of the war, was it to be a Lancastrian king or a son of York? No, we got Henry Tudor and just look at what we got from Wales. The huge audience exploded and I swear the loudest laughter came from Mrs J., the new chairman’s wife. Then back to our lodgings. I remember as we prepared for bed S. said “I thought you told me that the Scottish Division Director from Sheffield and the Ulsterman from Bradford are tough guys.” I told her that they certainly were and advised her to never forget it although I knew they would have defended not hurt her. S. said, “You had them crying tonight when you spoke, and they were not the only ones.”
Next morning for the last time an authority car came after breakfast to take us home to begin the first day of the rest of our lives. I usually refer to the next seventeen years as the best job I ever had, but the oth
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