Interview - Alan Pateman-Jones, director-general, Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Alan Pateman-Jones has recently taken the helm at an organisation that he describes as having the "gold standard" in horticulture.

Alan Pateman-Jones, director-general, Commonwealth War Graves Commission Image: Julian Dodd
Alan Pateman-Jones, director-general, Commonwealth War Graves Commission Image: Julian Dodd

 In his new role as director-general of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, he is the "custodian" of an organisation, which cares for some 230,000 cemeteries and memorials in more than 150 countries across the world.

He says overseeing the biggest employer of professional gardeners in the world is "fantastic, absolutely wonderful. My wife says it's the first time in years that I go home at night and I want to talk about work.

"There's something about not only the peace and the commemoration, but also the care with which our people look after both the graves and the memorials - and the horticultural standards are spectacular."

He has arrived at a time when the public sector spending squeeze is uppermost in people's minds. What will that mean for the commission? He says the impact of the spending review would, if anything, be about the "reallocation of resources", rather than making cuts purely to save money.

"I come from a commercial background and I'm determined that we will maintain our works and horticultural standards," adds Pateman-Jones. "I would turn the question away from the idea of being under pressure to cut from any external force - any organisation is continually looking at how to do things."

He says: "Our horticulture and work standards are very well defined and we have operated to them for a very long time. I think we maintain them very well. My job is to make sure that we continue to get the best bang for buck that we can, and I will continually look at that."

Looking to the future, he says: "One of the challenges we face is that by our very nature we are an organisation that people care deeply about and we are conservative with a small 'c'. When we are facing challenges likely to directly impact on everything we do, such as climate change, we have to be cautious.

"We have to explain to people why we do various things and I think the whole climate change thing is something that we are still grappling with and we don't yet have an answer about how we are going to go forward."

He explains that the commission is trialling different grass types and surfaces at several of its sites and reviewing visitor feedback, as well as conducting an environmental impact audit to address such challenges.

On preparations for the 100th anniversary of the start of World War One, Pateman-Jones says: "We have detailed planning to do over the next six to 12 months and we are talking to the six member governments. We have to work out what the visitors are going to be expecting at that time.

"It could well be that some iconic locations are going to have many tens of thousands of visitors and we are going to have to think about how we make sure that these cemeteries and memorials are at their very best."

He likens the expected turn-out for the 2014 commemorations to a trip he made to Normandy in June 1994 with his father, on the 50th commemoration of the D-Day landings. "I wouldn't be surprised if we see a Normandy-style experience in terms of the numbers going over the sites," he says.

As well as preparing for the 2014 anniversary and celebrations for the 100th birthday of the commission in 2017, he wants to set about attracting young people to the organisation.

"My understanding is that we used to have, some years ago, an apprenticeship scheme and I have in the last few weeks asked about it. I'd like to get younger blood into the organisation and I think an apprenticeship scheme is the way to do that," he says.

"In my view, we are horticulturally the gold standard and I as the custodian would see myself as maintaining that and perhaps adding in the tiniest layer of efficiency on to that."

He is adamant that the focus of the commission should remain on those who died during the world wars, and stresses: "It's an important job that we do. However, I wouldn't want to get to the point where we become the story - the story is about the millions who gave their lives."

CV

  • 1978-90: Royal Engineers, British Army
  • 1991-95: Various roles in the UK retail sector, National Westminster
  • Bank
  • 1995-97: Senior manager, management consultancy services, Cooper &
  • Lybrand
  • 1997-2000: Partner, retail banking, Ernst & Young
  • 2000-04: Various positions including chairman and chief executive of
  • wealth division, LloydsTSB
  • 2004-09: Managing partner, financial service division, Ernst & Young
  • 2010 to date: Director-general, Commonwealth War Graves Commission

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