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FEATURES - BACK TO THE GLC YEARS

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So what was life like in Ken's heyday? Nick Triggle rounds up County Hall veterans 20 years after Mrs T's handbag s...
So what was life like in Ken's heyday? Nick Triggle rounds up County Hall veterans 20 years after Mrs T's handbag struck

It is hard to believe but this month marks the 20th anniversary of the abolition of the Greater London Council. How do the officers and members who worked in its mahogany-lined corridors of power

remember the organisation and its last leader Ken Livingstone? LGC tracks down just some of those from the GLC diaspora to hear their reflections.

Helen Kilpatrick

Joined as graduate finance trainee. Now director general, financial and commercial, at the Home Office

The GLC had a certain glamour to a new recruit fresh out of university. And it did not fail to live up to expectations for a 23-year-old Helen Kilpatrick starting out as a graduate finance trainee.

'I remember my first day. County Hall seemed very big,' says Ms Kilpatrick, who would become known as the 'Punk Auditor' during her time at the GLC thanks to her pink highlights. 'The grand, marble entrance, miles and miles of corridor, it was pretty scary. The finance department had 500 staff alone.

'Then there were the likes of Ken Livingstone - it certainly had that wow factor.'

Ms Kilpatrick spent four years at the GLC, finishing her traineeship just a few months before abolition. 'The last day of the GLC was very surreal, an anticlimax I suppose. We knew it had been coming for a while, but suddenly it was here. Everyone went to the pub on the last day to drown their sorrows.

'But it was not like that during the fight to save it,' says Ms Kilpatrick.

'The 'Save the GLC campaign' had good support from the public, but the staff were very much behind it too.'

Ms Kilpatrick says the spirit came from the fact that staff believed in the organisation despite the criticism it got for supporting some of the more fringe activities.

'Perhaps there were things that were misguided - but you will always get that ideological drive in a democratic body. '

Helen Bailey

Joined as a graduate trainee and spent most of her time as a committee clerk. She is now Islington LBC chief executive

As Helen Bailey joined hundreds of others on the steps of County Hall on the last day of March 1986 to watch the flag lowered at the end of the Greater London Council's reign, she could look back on a tumultuous start to her career.

The Islington chief executive joined the GLC in 1982 as a graduate trainee fresh from York University.

'It was an exhilarating time,' she says. 'When I left university I wanted to go into the public sector, so the GLC was a great opportunity. Of course, in some ways it was a rag-bag organisation. But I think the thing about it was that you were close to the action and you could see changes taking place.'

But Ms Bailey, who went on to work at the London Residuary Body before spending a decade at some of the City's top consultancy firms, was more than aware that she was seeing history being made.

'You'd go into work reading about the people you worked with. You were on the front line in the battle between Whitehall and County Hall. The place was so exciting.'

Chris Duffield

Joined as a graduate trainee and rose to assistant director of finance. Now town clerk of the Corporation of London

It is clear Chris Duffield is talking about a bygone era when he explains the choice he had to make before even starting his first day at the GLC.

'When I left university, I had two options - work at the GLC or at one of the major banks,' he says. 'Would I make the same choice today? I'm not sure.'

The current town clerk of the Corporation of London left the GLC in 1985. He had risen from graduate trainee to assistant director of finance.

'They were heady times,' says Mr Duffield. 'There was a real sense that talent would be given a chance. It did not matter how old you were. I was made assistant director by the time I was in my early 30s.'

But it was not just the fact that people were given opportunities which made the GLC so unique.

'During the end of my time, the prospect of rate capping had arrived. At one point we had£400m on the markets, ready to call in if we needed the money. Can you imagine local government doing that now?'

He also says it was the sheer ambition of the projects that was inspiring. 'The GLC built the Thames Barrier and bid for the Olympics.

'I also remember it for the people I worked with. There was a strong professional ethos among the officers, not stuffy, but just about doing things the right way, even towards the end when the writing was on the wall.'

Lucy de Groot

Spent six months working in the members' secretariat. Today she is executive director of the Improvement & Development Agency

Lucy de Groot joined the GLC in 1985 in the members' secretariat. But despite her stint lasting little more than six months, the job taught her a lot.

For Ms de Groot the opportunity was too good to overlook - even though it was becoming increasingly clear that the end was nigh.

'I was young and ambitious and willing to take a risk,' she says. 'As a place to work, the organisation was buzzing.

'It was doing things that were really before its time - trying to build diverse communities, using culture to regenerate. These things are very much in fashion now, but the GLC was doing them in the early 1980s.

'What struck me was the way that as a public sector organisation it was important to listen to people. I think that is what made people in the GLC believe it was a noble organisation because it was serving the people.'

Sir Robert Kerslake

Joined as a trainee accountant and ended up in transport finance. Now chief executive of Sheffield City Council

Radical is a word which often comes to mind when discussing the GLC. But for Sir Robert Kerslake, it wasn't just the Livingstone years that re-wrote history.

Sir Robert joined the GLC straight from university as a trainee accountant in 1976 when the Conservative Sir Horace Cutler was leader. Needless to say, the atmosphere was a little different in those days.

'The GLC then was doing things that were quite innovative such as selling council houses and using the private sector to deliver services. It has become pretty much part of policy now, but it certainly wasn't at

the time.

'Of course, Labour and Ken Livingstone took over and they had their own ideas,' he says.

'But even within County Hall it was interesting to see the dramatic shift from one to the other. Under Cutler is was quite a staid organisation.'

For one thing, the Livingstone regime brought with it a change in dress code.

'On the first floor, where the members were, officers would have to wear jackets. But then Livingstone came in and we had councillors wearing T-shirts.

'It was a radical, dynamic time. I learnt to appreciate different approaches to work, the ability to manage political change, and the importance of giving advice to councillors while keeping your integrity.'

Gareth Daniel

Was a Labour GLC member. Now chief executive of Brent LBC

Being active in the Labour Party in the early 1980s was often fraught with difficulties. With the rise of the so-called loony left, it was easy to be pigeon-holed as extreme and, as a Labour councillor on the GLC, that was a tight-rope Gareth Daniel had to walk.

Elected in 1981 at the age of 27, the current Brent LBC chief executive had already stood for parliament and spent a year as president of the Oxford University Student Union.

'You were either soft-left or hard-left, and I suppose the litmus test for me was whether I signed the invitation for [Sinn Fein leader] Gerry Adams to visit County Hall in 1983,' he says.

'When the invitation was passed round a Labour meeting we didn't know how controversial it would become. I didn't sign.'

But the former Ealing North councillor says he will also remember his stint at the GLC for the push Ken Livingstone made on promoting equality.

'As chief executive of the second most multi-racial borough and the only council with a majority black and ethnic workforce it is important to understand diversity and not labelling people.'

What did you think of the GLC?

E-mail lgcletters@emap.com

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