Noel Moore: Senior civil servant who oversaw the planning and implementation of decimalisation in Britain
Saturday 14 June 2008
Noel Moore was a senior civil servant who, selected to oversee the practical implementation of decimalisation in Britain, made a remarkable success of the task.
In 1961 he was appointed Secretary of Lord Halsbury's Committee of Inquiry on Decimal Currency. This began a seven-year association with planning and implementing the decimalisation of the currency. There was a highly charged debate about the respective merits of a decimal system based upon the pound or 10 shillings. Largely for political reasons, the pound system came to be selected. After James Callaghan, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, in 1966 announced Labour's decision to go ahead with proposals to decimalise, Moore was appointed Secretary of the Decimal Currency Board.
Under the chairmanship of Lord Fiske, the board was responsible for recommending and, later, introducing decimalisation. It was realised that a huge effort was needed well in advance of "D-Day" – 15 February 1971 – to win hearts and minds and to persuade businesses and financial organisations to prepare. Moore's position was, undoubtedly, the most high-profile in his career and he was even affectionately referred to as "Mr Decimal" by his local newspaper.
He had wide contact with banks, industrial, trade, and other public- and private-sector organisations. He often spoke in public and was involved in mounting publicity campaigns as well as with the recruitment and, later, dispersal of board staff. Arrangements for decimalisation were too advanced for the Conservatives to halt it in 1970 when Edward Heath came to power. In the event, the process was generally regarded as having been remarkably smooth, which was in no small measure attributable to the work of the board. Controversy over the introduction of the 50-pence coin had, perhaps, been the largest hitch in the process.
Moore's authoritative account of the changeover, The Decimalisation of Britain's Currency, was published in 1973. He recalled it as a successful example of co-operation between the government, the private sector and the public. Frustratingly, decimalisation came to be associated in the public mind with inflation, but Moore robustly rejected this. Indeed, by 2000 he was regarded as an unsung hero in Channel 4's Secret History documentary "Funny Money", in which he was extensively interviewed, revealing an acute mind and mischievous sense of humour.
A gentle, self-deprecating, quietly spoken man, much liked by his colleagues, Noel Moore was brought up in the West Riding market town of Penistone, the son of Rowland and Hilda Moore. His father was one of a line of monumental masons dating back to the 18th century, but Noel was not encouraged to follow the family trade. He was an academically gifted pupil of Penistone Grammar School and obtained a scholarship to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he obtained first-class honours in Part II of the Modern Languages Tripos in 1950, as well as a half-blue for chess.
Two years of National Service followed, during which Moore became a 2nd Lt in the Royal Army Education Corps and served in Berlin. After this he spent three and a half years in the Territorial Army as a Captain in the Intelligence Corps. He married Mary Thorpe from Penistone in 1954 and she supported him strongly through a 54-year marriage.
Noel Moore started his Civil Service career in the Post Office as an Assistant Principal in 1952 and gained what he regarded as invaluable experience as a telephonist and postman in Bridgend. He became, for a time, Assistant Private Secretary to Charles Hill, the Postmaster General. After a range of tasks in the Post Office and the Treasury, he was selected for the Committee of Inquiry on Decimal Currency.
Moore's subsequent work was significant, but may not have provided him with the same degree of personal satisfaction as had the period when he was involved with decimalisation. He worked in the Civil Service Department between 1972 and 1981, becoming an Under-Secretary in 1975 with oversight, first, of manpower and administrative costs and, later, personnel management policy, industrial pay and the politically charged subject of public-service pensions. He was also responsible for conduct, discipline and security.
In 1981 he was appointed Principal of the 11-year-old Civil Service College, which offered professional and management training for career civil servants and central training for newly appointed fast-stream entrants. During the Thatcher years, there was pressure to reduce staff and increase productivity. Indeed, under Moore's leadership, the college increased greatly the number of course and student days, reduced its staff numbers and moved to a system whereby departments paid for courses and, consequently, were anxious to obtain value for money. There was an emphasis, probably influenced to some extent by Moore's own training, on courses to improve practical skills and usable knowledge. Priority was given to courses on financial management, in line with the government's desire for a leaner Civil Service.
Moore retired from full-time employment in 1986, partly due to ill-health. A restless energy, however, ensured that he continued to work very actively part-time. He became a member of the Civil Service Appeal Board, joined the council of the Royal Institute of Public Administration, and advised the British Council on the setting up of a civil service college by the Egyptian government. For the Cabinet Office, he reviewed its organisation and senior staff levels and evaluated its Top Management Programme. He also became a member of Barking & Havering Family Health Service Authority.
He particularly enjoyed drawing upon his decimalisation experience and, in this respect, became a consultant to the European Commission in 1994/95 on the introduction of a single currency. In 1996 he advised the Royal Mint and Bank of England on "All Change", an exhibition to mark decimalisation's 25th anniversary.
Brentwood Oxfam shop was to occupy much of Moore's time in his last two decades. He looked fondly on this period as one in which he worked closely on a daily basis with his wife, Mary, who was already a seasoned volunteer. He made the second-hand books his particular concern and raised considerable funds for the charity.
Noel Ernest Ackroyd Moore, civil servant: born Penistone, Yorkshire 25 November 1928; Assistant Principal, Post Office 1952; Assistant Private Secretary to the Postmaster General 1955-56; Private Secretary to the Assistant Postmaster General 1956-57; Principal 1957; Secretary, Lord Halsbury's Committee of Inquiry on Decimal Currency, 1961-63; Secretary, Decimal Currency Board, 1966-72; Civil Service Department Manpower Services Division 1972-75; Under-Secretary, Management and Personnel Office 1975-86; Principal, Civil Service College, 1981-86; married 1954 Mary Thorpe (died 2008; two sons); died Brentwood, Essex 30 May 2008.
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