Hello PPMA members and friends

You may have seen the recent excellent PPMA supplement published by our good friends The MJ and Penna. It coincided with our Annual Seminar in Bristol and of course the celebrations of our 40th Year! It features some fascinating articles written by past PPMA Presidents who recall their year in office, then we go bang upto date with our new President Barry Birie. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be publishing some of these articles here on our blog and we hope you enjoy this great journey through our history.

To kick us off is David Thomas, the Founder President of SOCPO and he recalls the establishment of the Society and its first year of work

‘In the late 1960’s and early 70’s several attempts were made to establish a professional association to represent senior personnel officers in local government. In some local authorities the human resource function had become very sophisticated and in the highly charged industrial relations climate of the time it was felt to be vital that senior personnel officers should have a body that could stand alongside the very successful organisations that already existed for other professions in local government. But, for one reason or another, early attempts to forge a group for personnel officers fizzled out.
By 1974 the climate had improved following the local government re-organisation of that year and the publication of the influential Bain’s Report on the Staffing of Local Government. So in the autumn of 1974 Dudley Procter (Lincolnshire) and I (then at Surrey) decided to have another go. We convened a meeting of a small group of county personnel chiefs which was held in a room above a pub in Derby. I well remember passing the hat round to pay for the hire of the room – a far cry from the financial sophistication of SOCPO and PPMA in later years!

We decided to set up a society based on other chief officer groups. But there were a number of obstacles to overcome. Many chief personnel officers were not convinced that a national organisation was the right way forward. Although the personnel departments in the metropolitan authorities, the London Boroughs and some (but by no means all) counties were well established and doing some high level work, most of the 1,500 local authorities that then existed had virtually no personnel function at all. The ‘ringleaders’ most interested in forming a society were, however, clear that an all- embracing national organisation was the right way forward in the interests of the future development of the human resource function in local government. John Handel (Lambeth), Alf Lawrence (Manchester) and I (Surrey) were given the task of bringing all of our colleagues into line. We achieved this but with the compromise that membership of the society would be limited to those holding chief officer status in their authorities.

SOCPO was officially established at a meeting in London in March 1975. The main challenge in our first year was to gain recognition from the then separate local authority associations for county councils, metropolitan authorities and district councils and, particularly, from LACSAB (Local Authorities Conditions of Service Advisory Board) and the Employers Sides of the then, all powerful, national negotiating bodies. They all agreed to work closely with SOCPO and to seek our advice on all relevant matters. It is a measure of our success that all these organisations were represented at a senior level at our first annual dinner held in Harrogate in October 1976 (when our guest speaker was the then senior political figure and ex-cabinet minister, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale).

It is lovely to look back to see how SOCPO and now PPMA have flourished over the past 40 years. Keep up the good work. Happy birthday!’

David Thomas is former president of SOCPO (1975- 76)