CONDENSING 40 YEARS of writing about social services, at least 30 of them with ADASS, into a short speech was a challenge. There used to be a troupe called the Reduced Shakespeare Theatre Company who condensed the bard’s plays into just 15 minutes of drama.
I wouldn’t say my life in social work has been in any way Shakespearian – but knocking it all into ten minutes or so is just about as challenging. And, as Ray James knows, I love brevity and conciseness….
But I shall try. And since I see you all have a glass in your hand, keep them filled. Because I am going to invite you to join me in some toasts.
The first is to all the ADASS honorary secretaries I have served. I have known them all from Devon’s John Hamsen onwards. There were a couple before John, and nine since.
One of my favourites was everybody’s loveable rogue Brian Roycroft. He took on David Mellor on our behalf. And Margaret Thatcher too. And came away from both encounters with honour.
He helped permanently to destroy my former colleague Terry Philpot’s faith in directors. Terry was editor of Community Care while I was editor of Insight and one spring we published a picture of Brian – ever the bon viveur - from Singapore, waving at the camera with a silver topped cane.
Within days I’d received a letter from Terry. It contained the picture of Brian with a word bubble coming out of his mouth in which Terry had written.
“Hullo There social workers. I’ve just been to Raffles Hotel for dinner, and sent the bill to Community Care.” Terry always had the fattest wallet in the social care publishing pecking order – and he used is sparingly…
Comparisons are invidious, and although I have never compared Presidents, I am going to compare honorary secretaries. Without a doubt, the most successful, the most universally admired, the sharpest, shrewdest and loveliest honorary secretary I ever served wasn’t Brian Roycroft, but his sidekick and partner in crime John Chant.
I’m glad to be able here to pay John, who became a personal friend as well as a mentor, the tribute which he so thoroughly deserves. He died tragically young, before his almost certain appointment as a peer. And he was and still is deeply missed.
Much of what social services has today we owe to John and to Brian, and to a third partner in crime John Rea Price who between them, on your behalf, steered the vastly influential Community Care and Children’s legislation through parliament, through the press, and through the public in the late 80s and 90s.
I was taken on in 1991 shortly after an un-named director sent out a press release without consulting any of his colleagues – an act of unbridled ill-discipline. The Association was doubly punished when the release was seized upon by a young Guardian leader writer Malcolm Dean who described its content, in a Guardian Leader, as “the most fatuous comment on social policy that has ever been written.”
We have avoided that ever since, and the reputation has been saved.
The role of honorary secretary honour flowed on through Anne Parker, Bob Lewis who appointed me, John Ransford who in the mid-90s forged what was to become a new committee structure and policy approach which lasted right the way through to 2007.
Andrew Williamson, Geoff Alltimes who brought a new business culture to bear, Liz Railton, John Beer who piloted us through the break up of ADSS into ADASS and ADCS, right through to our current hon sec Richard Webb.
They are a body of men and women who have shaped in remarkably different fashions the professional contexts in which so many of us have spent our working lives. So… A toast to them all.
My second toast is to the journalists I’ve worked with.
There’ve been so many although two dominated my early career – Pat Healey was the first national social services correspondent ever appointed (to the Times). Pat would swan around in her chauffeur driven limousine for a few days, then call a well-known social services character or two and get her leak of the week and scoop of the day.
Melanie Phillips, was a different kettle of fish. But at the time she was the award winning social services correspondent for the Guardian and the toast of Liberal England!
Social services has had some real gems in the reporters and editors who have worked within it. Nathan Goldberg, of course, springs to mind… While latterly the Guardian’s David Brindle, along with former president Andrew Cozens, are fast becoming the health and social care equivalents of national treasures.
And if you’ve followed the news today you can still recognise the commitment they show to us. I’m really glad that there are some people from the BBC here. From Niall Dickson – Niall Desperandum they used to call him in his latter days at the Beeb – all the way through to Alison Holt they have furnished us with some terrific reporters and terrific reports.
For those who criticise the BBC, let their be no doubt that many of the stories concerning our work and the people for whom social care cares simply wouldn’t get any attention at all with out the Corporation’s commitment to public service broadcasting.
So raise your glasses, and give thanks to all the journalists – and don’t forget the all-important professional press - we have here tonight and the many more out there who do watch our work as critical friends and report it dutifully and well.
The ADSS/ADASS team has grown amazingly since I joined and since 2000 when Mary Gillingham was recruited by Geoff Alltimes as business manager. Mary anchored the association in a way few other people could have. And ADASS owes her a huge debt of gratitude for the iron grip she kept on its management and administration over the 15 years of her watch.
We were helped by some first rate back up staff – Fionnuala Morrissey, Claire Lynes, and latterly Andriana Delevich, Catherine Cunningham, Hannah Collins – and there have been others. Jonathan Gardam, of course, is living proof that eccentricity can still live well and prosper within the bosom of ADASS.
They have always been an absolute delight to work with, and my warmest thanks to all of them, not least to Cathie Williams who has joined the team recently, for all the help, support and comradeship they’ve given me over the years.
And I couldn’t possibly let the occasion pass without saying a huge thankyou to Amanda Fry. Amanda can’t be here this evening but she, too, has been, and is, an absolute rock for ADASS over the 20 odd years she has been involved in running our conferences. So, quaff a large toast to them all, please
As always, I keep the worst ‘til last. Our presidents have come in all shapes and sizes, and I’ve known most of them even though I didn’t start working with them until October 1985.
Before my Insight days the names that spring out are inevitably Adrianne Jones, the first woman president; Herbert Laming, David Tombs, and Tom White who virtually created ADSS back in the early post-Seebohm days.
And since? Who can forget Wally Harbert my first editorial board chairman when I launched Insight? Or John Rea Price who has seen me sacked on at least three - or was it four? - occasions. Certainly, twice in one night in Buxton!
The guile of Peter Smallridge, the flair of Ian White and of course the formidable Denise Platt who broke the grip men had kept on the Association up until the mid-90s. Tad Kubisa, the elegant Robin Sequira from Wiltshire, Terry Butler from Hampshire… I’ll never forget Denise’s reaction to Terry’s appointment as chair of the Community Care Support Group, charged with touring the country teaching directors how to implement the 1993 legislation.
Her tremendous vitality in fact opened the way for a tide of extraordinary women directors to take the helm. The never knowingly under-dressed Jo Williams, Moira Gibb, Sarah Pickup – one of only three honorary secretaries to also serve as president - Julie Jones, Jenny Owen, Sandie Keene – the only president who ever shouted at me, whom I have forgiven many times over.
Meanwhile we have seen weak and shrinking violets bat for the men: Chris Davies, `Let’s dump the Poor Law’ Andrew Cozens; `Rock around the clock’ Tony Hunter. If you add the strictly ADASS presidents to this list – John Dickson, Richard Jones, Peter Hay – and what a year he had! – David Pearson (ditto) we get pretty well up to date.
But two directors I haven’t mentioned are Ann Williams and John Coughlan. Together they performed the amazing double act of leading ADASS’s negotiations with Education chiefs which saw the emergence of ADCS and ADASS. Seven years later both still deserve enormous praise, recognition and gratitude from ADASS members.
These men and women have all been remarkable; star performers on whichever media they have been involved with. And above all they have combined political shrewdness with a bottomless capacity to charm – a vital talent in politics and the press. So – a toast to them all as well
Which leads me to my current president, Ray James of whom we have heard much on the BBC today. I tried to trap Ray a few weeks back after he’d been interviewed on the Derbyshire programme by Joanna Gosling. “You were lucky to get Joanna Gosling,” I said, innocently, wanting to see if I could trap him into making a beastly and totally inappropriate sexist remark. With a modesty which entirely sums him up he thought for a moment and replied: “Drew. Joanna Gosling was lucky to get me!”
Ray and David Pearson, with Cathie and a much strengthened team are presiding over huge changes in the association as they gear it up for a new century and a very new, very, very different political and financial reality that we face over the next 10 years. So for my final toast, here’s to ADASS.
Working at the interface between the needs of the media and the desires of the professionals over such a period as we have lived through has been an extraordinary privilege. I wish ADASS and its crew – old and new - all the very, very best in the future, and ask you to raise your glasses in my final toast to the Association. To ADASS.
Editor for ADSS of Social Services Insight, 1985-1991
Policy/Press Adviser, ADSS/ADASS 1991-2015
*Apologies for not referencing the late, great Mike Leadbetter of Essex. How could I have forgotten!