I joined the Institute of Local Government Studies (later DAG, now IDD) in 1969 when it was under Ken Pickering’s leadership. After several years in the Uganda Government, I was a "retread" – one of a number of former district officers appointed on five year contracts under an agreement between the University and the Department of Technical Cooperation (now DFID). I embarked on a combination of teaching, research and administration at Birmingham with regular short assignments abroad, which lasted throughout my university service.
The 'Birmingham Mafia'
In 1978 I spent four months in Indonesia visiting eight provinces stretched across its 3000 miles and compiling a report on central local financial relations. Pirated photocopies of the report became best sellers in the donor community because it presented comprehensive information about how the system worked in practice, which was not available from any single source in Jakarta. I simply went around asking headmasters, engineers, hospital directors where they got their money. ‘All over the place’ was their answer, and I added the problem of fragmentasi to the lexicon.
The immediate result of the report was a programme which lasted 20 years with three products:
Legislation reforming the financing of provincial and municipal government, which has formed the base of the system since Suharto’s downfall.
Courses for local government finance staff at four Indonesian universities.
The "Birmingham Mafia" – a large core of civil servants and academics who had done post graduate studies at Birmingham and who were executing the reforms and teaching the courses. Six of the doctoral graduates became directors general within the ministries of finance and home affairs with key reform responsibilities.
The World Bank substantially adopted our Indonesian analysis for funding large urban infrastructural projects. This led to invitations to develop an urban finance programme at what is now the World Bank Institute. I was also invited to undertake a number of evaluations of World Bank urban finance policies and help design programmes in 25 different African, Asian and Latin American countries.
In 1988 I was invited to a workshop in Budapest to discuss a blue print for a democratic local government system in Hungary. This seemed academic wishful thinking; little did any of us dream that within a year the Berlin Wall would have come down and ten months later elected councils would take office in Hungary.
Margaret Thatchers’ response to post-Communist political changes included the Know How Fund (KHF). Democratisation of local administration was a priority of the post-Communist governments applying for funding because ridding town halls of apparatchiks was essential to completing the reforms. The Institute’s dual focus on local government in Britain and overseas together with my brief exposure to Central and Eastern Europe meant we qualified handsomely to design and execute the technical assistance programmes on local government reform in Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia. These lasted from 1991 until their accession to the EU in 2005.
Through all of this, my roles in the University kept changing. In 1975, I became Associate Director of the DAG, and in 1981 I received a personal chair as a prelude to taking over from John Stewart as Director of the Institute in 1983. In 1988 the University reorganised, and the Institute became part of the School of Public Policy, and I served as Head of School for a year. I reached maximum retirement age in 2000 – only the car park barrier took any notice! I continued to run the KHF programmes until 2005 and was lead consultant on Adrian Campbell’s local government reform programmes in Ukraine from 2000 to 2006. Recent footage has revived strong memories of frequent and contentious meetings in Soviet style buildings in Kiev, which have recently been the scene of violent encounter. The arguments in which we engaged over legal wording and mathematical formulae surrounded power conflicts which are still unresolved.
I took part in three fascinating World Bank missions to South Africa during the interval between Mandela’s release and multi-racial elections. I also helped the Uganda Government draft its local government legislation at the invitation of our alumnus Frank Gasasira who became Permanent Secretary after Musevani’s advent to power. Otherwise my focus since 1989 has been largely on Europe. I served for 11 years on the Steering Committee of George Soros’ Local Government Initiative, chairing it for three. Since 2008 I have worked intensively with the Council of Europe analysing the impacts of the economic crisis on local governments across Europe and comparing their policy responses.
I never dreamt that I would be involved in major reforms in countries as diverse as Indonesia, Slovakia and Ukraine. My time at Birmingham has been rich in opportunity and experience and rich in the friendship of likeminded colleagues both here and abroad. Many happy returns ILGS/DAG/IDD.
Read Ken’s profile and history of IDD in full (PDF 250KB).