40 years of the IED: Keith Burge
In the latest of a series of articles featuring influential IED people and projects from our proud history dating back to 1983, we hear from Keith Burge, Chair of the IED between 2010-2014 and a Board member for 15 years until 2021.
Luckily, the venue for my first IED Board meeting was directly opposite Derby train station, otherwise I would have had further to run and arrived even later than I did anyway due to ‘having been behind a local commuter service’ for half an hour. Not a great start.
When my slightly out of breath and uncomfortably clammy body found the meeting room, I genuinely wondered whether I had mistakenly gate-crashed the monthly gathering of the local branch of CAMRA: lots of men, lots of beards, and me the youngest person in the room, despite being in my 40s. I was assured I was in the right place.
As it turned out, the pre-meeting discussion was still continuing and, rather ironically, focused on the post-meeting drinks venue, which it was agreed should be the same place as last time. And the time before that. And the time before that. This was not the introduction to the IED Board that I had imagined.
But I soon learnt that, behind the hirsute façade, were some nice people who brought with them considerable experience of economic development and who collectively had turned the germ of an idea for a professional institute into something tangible. Which is something that is considerably easier to say than to actually do.
The experience I gained from those early Board meetings right through to my last meeting 15 years later taught me to appreciate how organisations like the IED evolve. It is all too easy to look back at where the Institute was when I joined it and wonder what the appeal was relative to the fantastic range and quality of the offer to members today. But that would be very unfair and disrespectful to the Institute’s pioneers.
Going from nothing to getting people from all over the country round a table was an achievement in itself, not to mention the learning provision, regional events and national conference that were all part of the offer back then.
Nevertheless, I believed the IED had to change which presented me with the question of whether to become more active or withdraw – preserving the status quo ante was not an option I could contemplate. So, I put myself forward to be Vice Chair. The election was hotly contested, but I stormed to victory through a combination of powerful arguments, intoxicating charm and the fact that nobody stood against me.
Two years later, I became Chair. I truly believed that there was a need to shake things up and try to take the IED to the next level. Couldn’t our conference be bigger, of better quality and higher profile? Shouldn’t we have a Patron? Surely we could have a Board more representative of the membership? And many other questions besides.
And so, with a professional organiser on board and Lord Heseltine agreeing to be our Patron, I headed to London for our first conference in its new format and my first conference as Chair. I used my opening address to try to explain what we were looking to do as an Institute (and why). I was well aware that some took to the journey more comfortably than others and that a few had opted to disembark, but as soon as I set foot on stage that day and looked out on more people than I had seen at the previous two conferences combined, I felt that we had done the right thing.
Even so, I also felt obliged to set out the reason for the changes that we had undertaken, including having a Patron. I described how I had considered who it was members might consider most closely associated with economic development, who had a national profile beyond our membership and who was still plugged into the machinery of government. At which point I looked over the heads of the delegates to the back of the room, where Lord Hesletine was standing, and asked if, by any chance, he had John Prescott’s phone number? He chuckled and I breathed a sigh of relief.
In what ended up as four years as Chair, supported by a rejuvenated Board and an enthusiastic and committed Executive Director, I think (in all modesty) that we made some decent progress. But there is no doubt in my mind that the IED’s development under Bev Hurley and now Tom Stannard, supported by a fantastic Executive Director and his team as well as a diverse and talented Board, has taken the Institute to new heights, far above those that I and my Board colleagues achieved.
Watching this happen from the sidelines offers a truly wonderful view. And the thing with evolution is that it never stops…