Now that the region has gone

3rd May 1996 at 01:00
I am almost sure it was Shakespeare in Henry VIII who had a morceau that resonates with the fortunes of Strathclyde, my work and home region.

Someone talks about the state of man, full of hope today, thick with the blossoms of honour tomorrow. Then comes a frost, "a killing frost . . . that nips his root. Then he falls." Shakespeare, as always, is required reading for students of the human situation, and Henry VIII's farewell grasps the spirit in which the regions underwent the Government's surgery. It's over now, the chief players are out of the decompression chambers, there's no more blubbing over defunct mission statements, the baton has been handed on and personnel continuity has softened what could have been difficult experiences all round.

It all looked relatively painless to us spectator sessiles of the educational world, attached to our locations. We sway back and forth in the ebb and flow of change, have a ringside seat at educational and social continuity and discontinuity, progression and lack of it, and realise more keenly than most the consequences for ourselves if our free-floating administrators ignore these important elements. Hand in hand with this, we have an almost mystical opportunity to see in practice Santayana's historical truism that those who do not remember the past are condemned to relive it.

This meditation on the advantages of sessility stems from receiving the billet-doux from Frank Pignatelli on the demise of the region and his own departure from the directorate for other management endeavours. A standardised one, the letter offered a fascinating glimpse into life at the top during the last days of Strathclyde's biggest budget burner and its run down, just prior to meltdown.

I have worked my way through a number of directors, being well into my thirtysomethings, but few have provided farewell letters that were at all memorable, and those who have were, to my recollection, subdued compared to the insights Mr Pignatelli provided of the inner bunker. It comes as a shock to read the director apologising for his inability to communicate by way of personalised envelopes and letters, something he viewed as a managerial dereliction. He left it deliberately vague whether it was Wallace or Gromit who was licking the stamps in administrative support in the region's Dalian House.

The pressures on the one man and his dog left in it, he said, were considerable. Nor could he guarantee any token to demonstrate elected members' appreciation of loyal service: not even a tin of sweets or a commemoration mug. His best offer was a "rather neat" Strathclyde pencil, an indicator of the extent to which budget starvation had struck home. What surprised me most was Mr Pignatelli's raised curtain, hinting that fundamental disagreement, difficulty and conflict had at any time been on the agenda for an authority that prided itself on solidarity, a commonly agreed mission statement and the unrelenting pursuit of a Standard Circular.

Even allowing for the platitude that a little stress is good for you, the overwhelming impression is inescapable that it was a jungle up there, albeit a courteous and professional one. The light relief provided by the picture of the main educational protagonist urging colleagues further down the greasy pole to get on first name terms with him was a welcome one in a letter that fairly bristled with Zeitgeist.

That is where sessiles and Santayana come in. I am grateful for the director's tantalising glimpse through the swing-doors of the corridors of power. The foundations for future success, he writes with a little pride, have been laid by colleagues now grappling with the problems of power shift and the inevitable tensions between what the Japanese call tatemae - official reality - and honne - the way things really are.

Perhaps the sessiles could chip in their modest contribution: their hope that the new gleaming authorities see their way to include in their mission statements and development plans a resolution to make Santayana wrong. Just for once.

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