Professor Ken Davey, 1932-2021

It is with great sadness that the University of Birmingham announces the passing away of  Ken Davey OBE, Emeritus Professor and former Head of School and Associate Director of the Development Administration Group, who sadly passed away in February 2021. An In Memoriam page has been set up to commemorate Ken Davey’s contribution to the University.

Professor Ken Davey, 1932-2021

Professor Ken Davey, who has died aged 89, enjoyed a wide and varied career encompassing the military, the colonial service and academia. His calm judgement benefitted people in countries as diverse as Indonesia, Uganda and Slovakia and many places in between.

'Jobs for retiring administrative officers? Well there’s new town corporations, university administration, MI5….Oh, and there’s a man called Maddick recruiting staff for a department of local government at Birmingham University'. On this suggestion by the Overseas Service Resettlement Bureau Ken met Ronald Wraith for an interview on bar stools at Liverpool Street Station. In 1969, after two more years in the Uganda Government, he joined the Institute of Local Government Studies, housed in prefabricated huts next to the Chamberlain Tower at the University of Birmingham.

In this way Ken became a 're-tread', one of a number of former district officers appointed on five years contracts under an agreement between the University and the Department of Technical Cooperation (later ODA and then DFID). Charles Swaisland had served in Nigeria, Malcolm Norris in Tanzania, David Pasteur, Hubert Allen and Ken in Uganda. The agreement provided an initial year’s postgraduate study at Birmingham, a two year secondment to the East African Staff College in Nairobi and a year’s re-entry to Birmingham, which converted into a post that Ken held until his retirement in 2000.  The Institute was formed in 1964 and was based on the need to train senior officials for newly independent states. Initially housed at a former Cadbury residence of Wast Hills House, Ken’s early roles included ensuring that guests did not take drinks into the Drawing Room lest Cadbury descendants 'take offence at the consumption of alcohol in the presence of the family portraits'.

After a stint at the East African Staff College, Nairobi from 1970-72, Ken returned to the Institute where training postgraduates had expanded to accommodate large numbers of civil servants mainly from Africa and Asia, who had lacked opportunity for university education but now occupied posts normally requiring it. Ken embarked on his career encompassing teaching, research and regular short assignments overseas that continued until the end of his career. These assignments encompassed working for the Nairobi housing department, training civil servants in Juba in Sudan for many years and most particularly 20 years of involvement in Indonesia where Ken worked on central-local fiscal relations, produced an unlikely black market best–seller on budgets, redesigned the financial law and trained a cadre of senior civil servants.

Similar influential programmes followed, including significant work for the World Bank on urban finance that changed the internal discourse of the Bank, designing programmes in 25 African, Asian and Latin American countries. Such work incorporated other institute colleagues including Nick Devas and Simon Delay and a greater research focus bolstered by colleagues like Richard Batley. In 1988 the Director of the Hungarian Institute of Public Administration, Imre Verebelyi, invited Ken to a small workshop in Budapest to discuss a blue print for a democratic local government system in Hungary. Within a year the Berlin Wall came down and ten months later elected councils would take office in Hungary and elsewhere. One meeting in Moscow occurred the week after the failed coup against Gorbachev. Strolling after dinner they found Dzerzhinsky’s severed head, removed from a statue, in a parking lot, discarded by a municipal dust cart.

Margaret Thatchers’ response to the political changes included the Know How Fund.  Democratisation and ridding town halls of apparatchiks was essential to completing the reforms. Here again fate intervened in the form of Garth Glentworth, a former colleague and an ODA adviser in central/eastern Europe. They designed and executed the technical assistance programmes on local government reform in Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia. From its founding in 1997 he was for many years chair of the board of the Local Government and Public Service Reform Initiative (LGI) of the Open Society Institute, Budapest, which was then the most influential centre of local government research in CEE. This long history of work led to an OBE in 1997 and the Hungarian Officers' Cross of the Order of Merit in 1998.

During all of this time, Ken’s career within the University blossomed. In 1981 he became a Chair and Head of the Institute of Local Government Studies and in 1998 he became Head of the School of Public Policy at Birmingham. As Ken himself said about his retirement: 'Only the car park barrier took any notice'. 

Ken Davey OBE

Ken in 1998 with Birmingham PhD graduate Dr Susiyati Hirawan, who was at that time head of the inter-governmental fiscal relations unit in the Indonesian Ministry of Finance. 

Born 1932 in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex Ken was educated at Silcoates School near Wakefield, going on, in 1951 to read History at Merton College, Oxford. In 1954-6 he did National Service with the Royal Artillery in Cyprus during which he took part in undercover operations in Cyprus during the 'Emergency'. On leaving he joined the Colonial Service. In 1956 he was posted to Uganda where he served as a District Officer and Magistrate in Toro District, followed by stints in Bunyoro, Masindi and Mbale. In 1962 he was moved to the Ministry of Local Government in Kampala, and in 1964 became Senior Courts Advisor, Ministry of Justice. His final posting was in 1966 as Chief Regional Inspector, Ministry of Local Government, Kampala, responsible for reform of local government finance.

Ken married Beryl Herbert in 1962 and they had three children Guy, Julian and Stephanie. He spent a large part of his life as a Lay preacher in the Anglican Church, as a member of the PCC, and Secretary of Severn Forum of Churches. One of the other loves of his life was Malvern College, where until his retirement from council after 34 years, in December 2020, Ken was the longest serving member and an enduring presence. Ken had a quite extraordinary impact upon the College he clearly loved, steering it through a series of mergers and reforms to see it emerge as a thriving school. He persuaded Ian MacLaurin to become Chairman in 2003 ushering in a successful period for the college. To the end he was quiet and considered, always understanding the human elements of what makes organisations work and combining that with a clear mind. We always listened when Ken raised his hand to speak. Requiescat in pace. 

Professor Paul Jackson, International Development Department