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04 January, 2012

 

Alfred Stocks
Alfred Stocks
Yorkshire common sense and a fine, dry sense of humour carried Alfred Stocks for 35 years through the constant traumas of political life in Liverpool, which he served as a solicitor, assistant Town Clerk and finally, for 12 years, as Chief Executive. 

It was during his tenure at the top that Labour's Militant Tendency and other hard left elements took control of the council. Stocks' first task in those years was to build, if he could, a working relationship with these new political masters. It meant overcoming an ingrained suspicion that the council officers, because of their identification with earlier administrations, would sabotage the new policies and plans.

That Stocks managed to cross this divide and instill sufficient trust for council business to be carried on was in part due to his own early days in Liverpool when, as a young Cambridge-trained lawyer, he was responsible for the legal work on slum clearance.

It meant going month after month, year after year, to the poorest areas of the city, street by street, house by house, seeing the conditions, smelling the smells in places like Everton Brow, Scotland Road (which no longer exists), Toxteth. For the rest of his life Stocks worked unceasingly to see that people he came to know in these appalling conditions were decently housed. Knowing that local sensitivities would be wounded when central Government proposed large-scale financing for inner city and derelict dockland regeneration, with control vested not locally but in a centrally funded Development Corporation, Stocks got agreement privately, one by one, with all the political leaders so that the scheme was accepted when it came before the full council.

A modest and unassuming demeanour cloaked an incisive mind, a skilled advocacy and the ability to make decisions which won him the loyalty and affection of his staff. No matter how busy, he always had time for them, though not for the pompous or verbose. He never lost the confidence of the officials he led or the politicians he served. To many he was as much friend as colleague and his brisk, no-nonsense “Now chum…” encapsulated his way of working.

His beliefs—he was a lifelong Methodist and a firm adherent of Moral Rearmament—led him to work in close harmony with Liverpool's two bishops and the 200-strong Ecumenical Assembly of which he was unanimously elected Speaker.

When tensions and feelings were running high after the 1981 Toxteth riots, Stocks was encouraged by leaders of the immigrant communities to see how many blacks the city employed. No records were kept as this was deemed discriminatory. When a survey revealed 269 blacks in a workforce of 31,000, Stocks urged the publication of these uncomfortable figures.

His dining table often included business or professional colleagues, but could equally find welcome for a young black Militant supporter left bereft at the Town Hall after a job interview and scooped up by the Chief Executive for a meal and a refuge.

Asked once by his assistant whether he was gifted with second sight as he so often seemed to know what course to take, Stocks vigorously denied it but added that he had sought direction from the Almighty all his life and naturally did so at moments of crisis. There was nothing fancy about this in his view, but he often found the essential initiatives or the insights into what was in others’ minds which would show a way through an impasse.

When he died, many felt the city had lost not just a great public servant but a friend.

Geoffrey Pugh

Alfred James Stocks, local government officer, born 24 March 1926, married Jillian Gedye (one son, one daughter), died 5 October 1988.

First published in The Independent, 31 October 1988

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