August 2015 has been somewhat of a land mark in my life as it represents the 50th anniversary of when I started full time employment at the Royal United Hospital in Bath on 1 August 1965 and furthermore, I celebrated my 70th birthday on 7 August this year by being promoted to Senior Democratic Services Officer!
Fifty years is a long time in which to look back, which I rarely do, but it can be interesting to see how dress codes and working practices have evolved during this time. When I first started work we all had to dress fairly formally in dark grey suits with generally white shirts and ties but I must admit to being somewhat of a rebel by introducing coloured shirts and ties and then, when they were accepted as the norm, I wore a crimplene aubergine suit with flares and wide collars and wide ‘kipper’ ties!
Looking back at working practices over this time, it is amazing to find how things have changed and for the better! Way back in 1965, one always called the boss ‘Sir’ and virtually never ‘Madam’ as, apart from hospital matrons and the occasional female consultant probably in paediatrics or anaesthetics, there were none. In those days there were separate pay scales for men and women and women were frowned upon if they wore trousers however smart.
There were no computers but mountains of paper. Salary was paid either monthly for white collared workers by cheque or weekly for blue collared workers in cash but gradually this changed to monthly payment direct to one’s bank account; however, this did take quite a time to fully achieve on account of some staff not having bank accounts.
So, what about Local Government and Wiltshire in particular? Well, I started work for the County Council in 1979 and I have to say that I was truly amazed at how different the whole culture was from that which I experienced in the Health Service in Bath and later in Salisbury. I was surprised to find how formal the Council was in 1979 – back to the formal suits and chief officers mostly addressed as ‘Sir’, (still no madams!).
I was surprised to find out that almost every item on a committee agenda was accompanied by a written report. All reports, agendas and minutes at County Hall were typed on skins known as stencils by one of the ladies in the departmental typing pool and all of these had to be checked by us committee officers (known as committee clerks).
I noticed that in committee minutes the names of lady councillors were not prefixed with any initials which I questioned as, in my ignorance, I just thought was a mistake! But oh no!, I was gently informed that we didn’t include any initials for female councillors because we didn’t know their husband’s initials and it would be incorrect to use their own!!
I was also surprised at the use of Latin names of places – for instance I just couldn’t find a parish file for Salisbury (all parishes had files in alphabetical order). I was told to look under N for New Sarum which was TC176; I just couldn’t believe this and retorted that had Bath been part of Wiltshire, would it be known as Aqua Sulis? I am sure that this didn’t help my career prospects!!
Very gradually, thankfully practices have modernised in many ways and at an ever increasing rate, in part due to financial necessity. I suppose that changes started to materialise in the mid 1980’s, partially as a consequence of a new coalition administration between Liberal Democrat and Labour councillors, which required somewhat different working practices. There were far more female councillors and I suspect as a consequence we started to see the appointment of some female chief and second tier officers.
About 15 years ago I didn’t know how to switch on a computer, let alone be able to use one! As part of the Local Government Reorganisation of 1996, when Swindon became a unitary authority, the County Council brought all of its committee officers together into one unit and we all had to start using computers. This was a steep learning curve for nearly all of us but gradually after attending some basic computer courses, we learnt how to use them and this quite transformed our working and speeded up the deliverance of agendas, reports and minutes. With the advent of the computer, the traditional departmental typing pool became redundant and we saw them gradually decrease in size and then eventually disappear completely.
Until 2010 there was a statutory retirement age of 65 and all staff were subject to this. The Coalition Government quickly abolished this requirement which means that staff are now able to continue working for as long as they are capable of carrying out their duties and are fit to do so. Excellent news for me who not only has carried on working over the age of 65 but even gained promotion at 70! With the experience I have gained over the years, I am able to help train new young members of staff which I immensely enjoy and find most rewarding.
Looking back over my working life to date, I feel that working conditions and practices are better now than ever and I have been so fortunate in working with such excellent people, both staff and councillors. I can quite confidently state that it is quite a joy and pleasure to work for Wiltshire Council. Granted that we shall no doubt face further challenges over at least the next few years but I have every confidence that, given the leadership that we currently enjoy, these will be kept to a minimum and implemented with as little pain as possible.