A man whose dues were paid by others

30th August 1996 at 01:00
"This is Bob Hodge: some of you may not recognise his face but all of you will probably recognise his signature."

This introduction of the man who retires today (Friday) after a third of a century as the Educational Institute of Scotland's resident financial expert came during a recent visit to some of the troops in the field. It exemplifies Mr Hodge's contentment to have been the union's backroom boy, albeit an extremely influential one, as well as his pride in wearing a non-political heart on his sleeve, never compromised even during the turbulent years of John Pollock's tenure as general secretary.

Mr Hodge began his career as the EIS assistant accountant in 1961 (full status came two years later). Membership was 28,000, against 49,000 today, and subscription income Pounds 78,448:17s:10d, compared with Pounds 3 million now.

Over that time he saw out 36 presidents and four general secretaries. Mr Hodge remarks of the climate then: "I remember when I would not have told you what the EIS membership was."

How different it all is now. He even confessed, during a dinner in his honour in June, to being disrespectful to the union's general secretary. "When I first joined the EIS, Gilbert Bryden was gen sec and when he came into my room there was a tendency on my part to jump to my feet. Now, when Ronnie [Smith] comes in, I casually wave him to a seat and say, 'Hi'.

"I have to say that the tendency to jump to my feet, if not to attention, owed much to my having not long finished my national service and recognising the clear difference between a lieutenant-commander in the Navy and a sergeant in the Army Pay Corps."

It is another salutary reminder of changed times that Mr Hodge embodies the generation which expected "a job for life." Apart from his apprenticeship - he turned down a partnership with the firm in favour of the EIS - heading the institute's "pay corps" is the only job he has ever had. Longevity seems to have been a feature of the post: there have been just two EIS accountants over the past 60 years, Douglas Ainger having also served a 30-year stint.

The term "accountant" offers little insight into the job. He gradually acquired responsibility for pensions, membership and the benevolent fund, rising to the dizzy heights of office and personnel manager within the union's Moray Place headquarters in Edinburgh.

These changes kept his interest in the job. His status rose and his duties increased so that the accountant became an official (a subtle Moray Place distinction not to be confused with an employee) and, by 1974, he was on a par with the depute general secretary.

Further changes came along in the wake of the 1986 Financial Services Act which led to the formation four years later of EIS Financial Services, of which Mr Hodge became secretary and a director. Around 7,000 EIS members and their families now transact some kind of business with the company, including mortgages, motor insurance, loans and investments.

Technological and political upheavals combined with the financial revolution to change Mr Hodge's job out of all recognition. Gone are the days of the "pay parade" when a Securicor van drew up outside Moray Place to convey cash for the expenses of annual conference delegates to the venue.

The first EIS computer, bought for Pounds 25,000 in 1975, is a similarly fond memory. The fact that it could not handle membership records as well as accounts may only appear unsophisticated with hindsight. The EIS is now fully computerised with PCs linking the 32 new local associations to Moray Place and to each other. The union is even considering informing the wider world about itself on the Internet.

A remarkably youthful 61-year-old, he says that "now is not a bad time to be bowing out." The increasing complexity of financial regulations is but one reason. Mr Hodge also has little known but onerous responsibilities for administering things like the EIS benevolent fund, which pays out between Pounds 45,000 to Pounds 50,000 a year to some 50 to 60 members. It is a source of support for teachers struck down by ill health or in other straitened circumstances in which Mr Hodge takes obvious pride.

There are, in addition, small trusts and bequests of money left to the institute which Colin MacKenzie, Mr Hodge's successor, will have to look after. Among one of the more specific is a charity "for the benefit of teachers, including retired teachers, in distress in Dundee".

Happily, Bob Hodge will not have to worry on that score.

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