Friday, December 21, 2007

Its No Excuse, Mr Hain.

Prompted by a comment on my blog, I return to the issue of 'donorgate' - and the appropriate response when something like this goes awry. Now, I've been there. Been vilified/crucified/humiliated - and as a consequence of something I knew nothing whatsoever about. My name was dragged through the broadsheets mud (only time my photograph has appeared in the Telegraph). Knowing nothing about the problem was no defence. I took the full hit - and it hurt, big-time. This is what happened.

The Development Board for Rural Wales was a Quango, established in 1977. It doubled up as a New Town Corporation, which involved it building and managing several thousand houses - essentially for 'key workers'. These houses were let from a list of 'key worker' applicants, which was publicly available. When there were no names on this list, houses were let to names on another list, based on 'needs' criteria - but this list was not public (which later became known rather pejoratively as the 'secret list). This system was entirely in order until 1985, when a new Housing Act clause decreed that all such lists should be public. I was never able to discover why the Board's procedures were not changed at the time. I was told that the clause was so uncontentious and unremarked upon, that no-one ever noticed - which a few years later turned out to be a hell of a pity from my perspective.

I was appointed Chair of the Development Board in 1989. Housing was only a peripheral role in our work, and my focus was on transferring the entire stock to a housing authority. Never crossed my mind that there might be something wrong - nor the mind of any other member of my Board, or officer. In 1993, a house was allocated to the Board's Housing Officer. At the time there were no applicants on the 'public' list - and the letting was approved by the appropriate line manager. I still remember my blood running cold when I was told, several months later, that the Ombudsman and later the Auditors had looked at our letting procedures and found the letting improper because it had been from a non-public list.

Now, if I'd sacked the Chief Executive or some other senior officer, I might have escaped criticism - and I would have done just that, if one of them had done something wrong. But they hadn't, and so I didn't. At that time, there was a quango vilification campaign in full swing, and in my heart I knew that some blood would have to be spilled - and that it would probably have to be mine. I thought it was incredibly unfair. But that's life. There was the expected attempt by politicians to portray me in a bad light - which generally failed. The whole episode caused me great pain - and changed my character for a long time. Its probably the only experience that really knocked me back. It was only with the support of others that I recovered. Fortunately, everyone in Wales seemed to accept that I was the victim of circumstance, and there was very little criticism of me personally.

I resigned my position on May 12th, 1994, which is why I always remember the date of John Smith's death. The fact that I knew nothing whatsoever about the issue, and even on reflection, cannot see how I could have been expected to, was no defence. Perhaps now dear readers, you can understand why I am quite so outraged by the response there has been to 'donorgate' - and the "We knew nothing about it" defence. It was one rule for me , and another for Labour Ministers.


Dr. Christopher Wood said...

Ahhh, good on you bonnie Glyn, and don’t you worry too none, you have a lot of good chemistry about you, and you did nothing wrong, so in Glaswegian, ‘that’s not you then’.

But yeah, a date to remember (May 14th, 1994) - the day John Smith died; I was in my last but one year of my chemistry PhD at Glasgow University (which has one of the biggest chemistry departments in Scotland). Being at Glasgow University I learnt from others there that John Smith graduated from Glasgow University (which means he has a University of Glasgow “matriculation number”).

If memory serves, Charles Kennedy also graduated from Glasgow University (so Charles Kennedy also has a unique Glasgow University matriculation number).

Also, if memory serves, at least one of John Smith’s daughters was studying at Glasgow University at the time of her father’s death (I think another daughter had recently graduated from Glasgow too), which kind of made the news even sadder. If memory serves, his daughter was an undergraduate in law at Glasgow University. I think it was the day that "law" as a "job" came into my mind.

The news of John Smith’s death shocked everyone at Glasgow University - it was like we had lost an angel. John Smith had some good chemistry about him and it was a great tragedy for his family and British politics when he died.

Dr. Christopher Wood said...

opps, May 12 not May 14.

Glyn Davies said...

christopher - I was listening to the story of John Smith's death as it unravelled on the car radio. There was a couple of hours between when it was announced that he'd had a heart attack and that he'd died. I was driving away from all the hoo hah. I had delivered my resignation letter and cleared off. There was none of this false crap involving exchange of letters. I was too upset about things and just disappeared for a few days to recover. To this day, no-one knows where we went. John Smith was a good man.

Anonymous said...

Glyn I remember the ho hah over the DBRW at the time. I could never understand the big fuss over what was such a small part of what the Board was ab out. I had several good friends who worked for the Board and Rural Wales was left with a major gap when it went.
I didand still do not see that anyone should have resigned at the time. May be its because you are an honourable man, makes you wonder about some politicians today -of all shades.

Glyn Davies said...

VM - Politics is like that. It was so fashionable to kick anyone who had anything to do with Quangos at that time, that most politicians wanted to jump on the wagon which they themselves had created. I didn't see much option but to resign - because the Secretary of State at the time did not support me. And I'd always said that without the full support of the Secretary of State, I would not want to do the job. Both Peter Walker and David Hunt had given me that level of support - but John Redwood took a different view. The only way to have saved myself would have been to dismiss innocent people - and that I would never do. It remains my opinion that the hoo-hah was ridiculous - and that abolition of the Board (disguised as a merger with the WDA) dealt a huge blow to the economy of Mid Wales, from which it has suffered ever since. Rural Wales does not have a 'champion' anymore. Ironically, I'm back into doing that sort of thing on a voluntary basis as President of the CPRW.

Anonymous said...

glyn you are living proof that public servants who resign can make a comeback while those who hang on until they are sacked cannot.

Glyn Davies said...

Anon - well sort of! Lets see if I can do it again - although to lose my seat as a result of the PR system did not feel like being sacked.