Sunday, 20 February 2011

A Different Week, and a Different Beach, Revelations at Morcambe Bay

Monday was Valentine’s Day. At the end of the day I had more roses than Inter-flora, more chocolates than Thornton’s, and more cards than Hallmark… …well maybe that was a Valentine’s Day 30 years ago!

In reality this years Valentine's Day was a rather subdued affair but as it turned out, Monday was only the quiet before the storm. The rest of the week was a great deal more challenging and at times, exciting.

Monday afternoon was devoted to a leadership event which for lots of reasons simply did not capture my imagination. I felt the three and half hours might have been spent a great deal more profitably. When the facilitator told yet one more tedious story to illustrate her point, something about bus drivers and conductors, I fervently wished I was on the No 6 Bus traveling to somewhere sublime. I have said it many times in papers published on leadership and team working, but again reiterate the point that for me leadership (and team working) is better caught rather than taught.

Tuesday came and went in a blur of intense College Executive meetings; an afternoon of investigative interviews that at times were reminiscent of therapy, a very quick glimpse of the past/present/future and a glass of wine at Alistair’s leaving celebration. Wednesday there was more work to be done on the academic scoping exercise. This is an exercise aimed at exploring where possible synergies exist across the taught programmes in each of the three Schools. By the end of March we should, as a College, be in a position to take some decisions over what the future shape of the College might look like.

The exercise was prompted, in part, by the increasing turbulence in our operating environment – the NHS. The changes that are occurring and those the Government are planning, have far reaching implications for all health and social care organizations engaged in preparing the future workforce. Likewise, the last two days of the week were about working with colleagues to think about how the University could become more cost conscious as a way of dealing with the challenges raised by so much economic uncertainty

I have say I was skeptical about what it was we were being asked to do. My concern was why we were going off to the Midland Hotel, Morcambe Bay. Now my perception of this hotel (admittedly based upon the reviews in the Sunday Times Weekend supplement) was of an extremely over priced and over the top renovated Art Deco Hotel. I was perplexed as to why we were going to discuss cost consciousness while possibly spending so much money in the process.

The reality was very different. The deal the University had agreed with the Hotel was a really good one, (but let’s face it how many people want to spend time at a beach in North West England, during a cold grey February?), and despite having to battle through the rush hour traffic of Lancaster to get there, it was as cheap as staying at the University. We did however, have to endure spam sandwiches for lunch and there was no wine provided at dinner! Despite a multi-million pound renovation project I thought the hotel was already past its best. For the first time in some 20 years I found myself sleeping in a single bed… …not good.

On the other hand the two days of discussion, exploration and decision making were brilliant. I became, overnight a cost conscious convert and, have no doubt, will subsequently be described as a cost conscious evangelist. I was really turned on by the creative opportunities in being given organizational license to really change the way we view the world. And it is the way we view the world that makes the difference - we can really change things by role modeling our values and our vision. It was intoxicating stuff.

Whilst in the School of Nursing & Midwifery we had already started to think about and indeed implement some of the ideas exchanged at the retreat, there was much more to learn. The two days were a great opportunity to learn from others, and I can’t wait to get back to business tomorrow to share ideas and see what we can do. However, the two days also gave me pause for thought. Sometimes I can be too enthusiastic about what I feel, and that can turn others off big time. I  know that I need to take greater care over how I express myself and what it is I feel so as to keep others engaged – for me this will be an interesting challenge!

And of course it would be wrong to write a blog this week without mentioning the tremendous things going on in the Middle East. The wave of people power is truly astounding, and I have been an avid reader of every newspaper and TV report describing developments. My heart goes out to all of those who have chosen to raise their voice in protest over oppression. I feel humbled. Simply trying to compare my problems with those of people dealing with theirs on the streets of so many countries has been tough.

My problems this week have been many, but there has been one area that has dominated. This is my ongoing battle with HMRC over what they believe to be an underpayment of my taxes. Talking with them about this is very difficult. On average it takes some 18 minutes between the HMRC automatic answer service picking up and actually speaking to a real person. Having done this three times this week, it is sobering to think that is nearly an hour of my life wasted waiting for HMRC to speak to me.


Salt was rubbed into the wound yesterday as I listened to the news about Barclays and what appearred to be a very modest amount of tax paid on the profits made last year. Barclays are the 10th largest bank in the world. I can remember as a young man in 1974 closing my Barclays’ Bank account in protest of their investments in South Africa which encouraged segregated banks and other forms of racial division. Although I didn't go to University until much later in life, I can recall many University students at the time were being encouraged to apply for emigration to South Africa as a form of mass people protest.

It all seems tame now in comparison to what is going on today in so many of the Middle Eastern countries where people continue to be oppressed, and so many people are being killed and injured as they raise their protest.

Back here in the UK, I think its really important that we try and keep all these people in our thoughts and hearts.