With everything that happened in 2020 it was difficult to find time to reflect. This year has also got off to a blistering start as we focus to get businesses and communities through the final stages of the pandemic. At times, however, we must reflect.
Sadly, 2020 took two former colleagues of mine, and the world feels worse for their passing. Together they notched up more than 70 years in local government – the vast majority at Nottingham City Council.
John Combes and Eric Alcock were two of the best accountants and people I had the pleasure of working with.
John gave me my first start in local government and helped shape my development. He saw something in me that I am not sure I saw in myself. In my first week he told me not to be laid back and, although not registered to provide personal financial advice, he told me the pension scheme was a ‘bloody good deal’. It was this straightforward honest approach he applied throughout his career and the residents of Nottingham benefited from. He was always there to listen but would remind me that I had one vote in a discussion and he had a million. Although he would ‘sack’ me on a regular basis he would also vote with me on occasion.
Eric was a lovely and intelligent man, but did not suffer fools gladly. As a trainee accountant I used to fear having to ask him a question. His first response was always ‘why?’ I mistook this as being obstructive, but it was the opposite. He wanted me to question and think about what I was doing and how I could do it better. Later in my career I would often go to Eric and say I had an idea, and he would help me work out if it was daft or worth pursuing.
With the vaccine providing some light at the end of the tunnel, maybe this is the time to look back at the lessons to learn and look forward. I will do that, but with John and Eric in the back of my mind, advising me.
Tony Kirkham is director of resources at Newcastle City Council