Anyone lucky enough to get tickets to see the musical Hamilton will be aware of a song involving King George III asking the question, what happens after George Washington leaves office? It is humorous, questioning the soul of America and the direction it is likely to take in Washington’s absence.
Most organisations and government agencies usually aim for consistency and continuation of the status quo. It is why we have Permanent Secretaries in government, after all. However, when an organisation’s average age is edging up beyond 40, I suggest it needs a revamp, diversification and clarification of who we want it to be. In my view, our profession is in need of an overhaul, a reboot and a rethink.
The importance and relevance of our profession was called into question during the austerity years, when sweeping cuts became ever more brutal. Our lobbying powers appeared absent as more cuts were imposed but demands for the service increased. As businesses cut corners our enforcement appeared impotent and slow to react. Effective enforcement was stifled, along with legal budgets which were reduced, or worse, removed.
Trading standards needed a wartime consigliere moving between the government lobby chamber and the Chancery to demonstrate the long-term damage that was being inflicted on our profession and consumers alike.
All the while the Brexit argument was gathering pace, and we appeared to be absent from the party. Exiting a long-established arrangement was and is going to take resources.
During the first COVID-19 lockdown the importance of trading standards enforcing the provisions of the Coronavirus Act 2020 was imperative to ensuring compliance and reducing the spread of the virus. Again, we appeared to be preaching to the choir about why it was important. I struggled to hear about our importance on the national news.
The government’s own figures demonstrated that the BAME community was the most affected by COVID-19 – yet our own website gave no consideration to what trading standards’ BAME staff may be going through whilst doing enforcement. This was a missed opportunity to demonstrate an inclusive organisation.
During this time, whilst we were shielding at home, we saw the horrendous murder of George Floyd, all 526 seconds, in glorious technicolour.
On the back of that murder, international organisations made statements of change and asked for help in how to rectify the narrative of a myopic viewpoint on race. They accepted that they did not know the answer but may be part of the problem and asked for help. Our profession remained silent and appeared convinced that we were above it all: we made no statement of condemnation or announced any alliances. Yes, we are an apolitical service, but we are human.
We now have a CTSI Working Group on Race and Equality so that we can look at our profession and effect changes that clearly need to be made. We are at the start of the journey. This is a journey that needs to be taken with the same rapidity as the Grande Vitesse trains. Statements of intent are important and shape who we are or want to be. Signing up to the Prince of Wales Race Charter is a signal that we as an profession are aware that we need to be inclusive, aware of what is happening around us, and capable of being the architect of our own rebuilding.
We are not the first profession to find ourselves on the outside of change. Branch Rickey, as General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team, looked at his industry and said, ‘we are not getting the best from it.’ He said it was high time for change and that the team needed to pick the best players, no matter who they were or where they were from. He said this in 1943.
He was convinced that it would lead to a rich tapestry of benefits for his team and the sport on the whole. He was aware that he was likely to face many doubters from those who wanted to maintain the status quo. He was told ‘no’ and that it would not work many times, but he broke ranks, convinced that the best person for the role would bring about the best for the team.
In 1945 he signed Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play Major League Baseball in the United States in the modern era, who was instrumental in winning the Dodgers the national league pennant in 1947 and 1949. With that appointment he changed the face of baseball and sporting history.
Dame Elizabeth Anionwu is an Emeritus Professor of nursing who came into the profession at 16 in the 1960s and enforced change by being told ‘no’ so often it became a mantra. She too asked, ‘are we getting the best out of our profession?’ She was known for wanting to increase care given to patients including home visits to new parents, contrary to established practice at the time.
Many of her ideas were initially prevented by elders who believed they knew best; now her ideas are woven into the fabric of the profession. Dame Elizabeth was a pioneer for reducing health inequalities and with that helped to establish the first nurse-led UK Sickle Cell & Thalassaemia Screening and Counselling Centre. In 2019 she was awarded the Pride of Britain lifetime achievement award.
Dame Elizabeth is Vice Chair of the committee to establish the Mary Seacole statue at St Thomas’ Hospital in London; a 12-year labour of love completed in 2017. When I met her at a Reach Society Careers event, trying to recruit trainee TSOs, in 2018, I asked her about her determination to get changes through and the statue made. She smiled and said, “Well you have to learn to love the word ‘no’.”
We need a Chief Executive as brave as Branch and Elizabeth who can see beyond the norm and ask the question, ‘are we getting the best from our profession?’ In order to do that we need to be inclusive across all of the key positions including The Council, Fellowship and Executive Boards.
Baseball made the change 19 years before the Civil Rights Act 1964. Our profession needs to emulate this change, in order to be seen as a welcoming and bold place for all members, and where young people aspire to work.
We need to look at where we are as a profession now; accept it, own it and seek to transform it. As James Baldwin said, “Not everything faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”