Post from Scope’s new chair, Andrew McDonald
It is exciting to be joining a charity that is clear in its purpose, clear in its strategy and ambitious in terms of what it wants to achieve. It is clear to anyone that has anything to do with Scope, that this is an organisation very much in its stride.
A huge amount of credit has to go to Alice Maynard. This is a very different organisation to the one she joined in 2008. It’s testament to her leadership. I have a tough act to follow and publicly I would like to pay tribute to Alice’s extraordinary achievements as Chair.
Why am I here?
First and foremost I’m a disabled person. I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2007. Three years later, I was told I had prostate cancer, a condition that is now incurable. I have been profoundly changed by those experiences.
When first diagnosed with Parkinson’s, I wanted to get on with my life. But I also wanted to be open with my team. But colleagues advised me not to do so – “because you will be labelled as a disabled civil servant and it will end your career”. I was really shocked. I decided I wanted to go ahead all the same because if I didn’t, I felt I was making it more difficult for the next person. And if these attitudes persisted in the Civil Service, a relatively liberal and enlightened employer, what were things like elsewhere?
I went on to chair taskforces on disability in the civil service, each aimed at improving the lot of disabled employees. That experience left me with the clear conviction that we need to act to make our workplaces more open to discussion of illness and disability. We need them to be safe and supportive environments in which everybody feels their voice will be heard. And we all – disabled or not – have a responsibility to bring that about.
I know now that a diverse workplace is not just a fairer workplace: it is more likely to be a more effective workplace. At its simplest, if people come to the table with a diversity of experience, they are more likely to make better decisions.
Scope’s work on the ground, in Parliament and through campaigning to ensure disabled people get the support they need to find work and flourish in work is vital.
We need to get better at talking about disability. A recent book review of a thriller by Martin Cruz Smith noted that the author had just “admitted” to having Parkinson’s. Pause for a moment and you will see that that verb stares out at you as extraordinary. Again, Scope is on the case: Scope’s End the Awkward campaign is light-hearted but it makes a serious point.
I have learned a lot through my work on disability in the Civil Service. I have also written and lectured on my experience of disability. One of the most important insights of the last seven years – and one of my motivations – is that I have so much more to learn. Each of us has a particular, a unique experience of disability. Recognising that and respecting it is crucial. .
What can I bring?
My first priority is to learn. To learn about Scope and its work; to learn about how I can best make my contribution.
I have worked across government and at the most senior levels of government, developing and implementing strategies, leading organisations and delivering change. That experience has been supplemented in recent years by my time as a trustee at Action for Children and the Cure Parkinson’s Trust.
My last job was one of the toughest in the public sector. From its creation, I led the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA), the body charged with sorting out MPs’ expenses and pay. It wasn’t easy. I steered it through some tricky times. I know the importance of listening when the going is tough. I know what is like to take tough, potentially unpopular decisions. And I know what it’s like to front those decisions.
I bring energy and enthusiasm for the vision and mission of Scope. From what I already know of Scope, I am clear that the next few years offer us a unique and exciting opportunity to bring about change, lasting change for disabled people. And to bring that about by putting disabled people at the heart of all we do.
I can’t think of a more motivating, or more important challenge.
(This is an edited version of Andrew’s speech at Scope’s Annual General Meeting on Saturday 18 October 2014)