In Memory of Lord Bob Kerslake
In The PSC’s office, our meeting rooms are named after great heroes of public services: Aneurin Bevan, Jeremy Heywood, Mary Seacole.
It is with enormous sadness - tempered with pride - that we rename today our communal area, the heart of where we work, ‘Kerslake’, in recognition of our late, inspirational chair Lord Bob Kerslake.
Bob, as he was known to all of us, was one of the true greats of public service.
It was fascinating to see Bob’s unbelievably sharp, calm, inquisitive mind at work. Bob had studied mathematics at Warwick University, later becoming Student Union President, and taking up an accounting qualification. But his numerical sharpness was supplemented by something much more rounded - a caring, humanity which allowed him to tackle any problem or question we threw at him
His legendary career extended to almost every aspect of public services imaginable. His love of local government, which ran through his time on the Greater London Council, chief executive of Hounslow and later Sheffield, permanent secretary of the department of communities and local government and course president of the Local Government Association. His passion for social housing - which was driven by a deep sense of justice, and the need to provide people with decent homes - through his time at the Homes and Communities Agency, Peabody and BeFirst.
His expertise in education, chairing Sheffield Hallam University during a hugely successful and transformational period. As chair of King’s College Hospital he oversaw a huge reduction in the trust’s deficit and - in his wonderful West Country burr - was unafraid to speak truth to power: issuing his resignation on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme and decrying a lack of funding for the NHS. As head of the civil service he spearheaded reforms and by the time he left, the civil service was arguably reaching peak efficiency. His passion for the arts in general - and jazz in particular - was influentially demonstrated as he chaired the Sheffield Arts Theatre.
When Bob joined The PSC as Senior Advisor in 2019 we were thrilled. There was simply nobody who embodied the values of public service better. And Bob quite simply knew everyone and everything about our world. But Bob was more than just a remarkable connector; our teams would come to him with any client challenge - from educational reform in Jersey to tackling low earth orbital space debris, to navigating higher education funding, and NHS to social care interaction - and within minutes he would have diagnosed the issues, worked with us to develop the options, helped clarify the way forward and put us in touch with an expert from his remarkable rolodex. It was beguiling and extraordinary to witness. And even more so when it turned out five minutes after our meetings we would hear him on the radio or see him on television, expertly commenting on life, politics and public services in his inimitable way. Working with Bob was one of the very greatest professional privileges possible.
Just days after we celebrated Bob becoming our new Chair in February of this year, he was diagnosed with the illness which would deprive the world of so much more he had to give it. But Bob wanted to push ahead. Throughout his treatment he continued to guide, advise and mentor us. Even days before his passing he was in touch, sharing his wisdom as always. He was extraordinary to the end.
It remains painful for all of us knowing that Bob is no longer with us. As our friend, advisor and chair he made us feel bolder, more confident, more sure than ever that our mission matters.
Bob once said: “We only exist once and should make an impact.”
What an impact he made.
We will honour him by dedicating ourselves to what he did better than anyone: public service.
Thank you, Bob.
Before he died, Bob requested that any donations should go to the homeless charity St Mungo’s. We invite you to join us in doing so: St Mungo's
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