Sir Peter Carr 1930-2017 Obituary

Former member of LERA, Peter Carr, who has died aged 87, had a remarkable and varied career, including in industrial relations and as a leader of health service improvement in the UK. His focus was always on promoting productivity through constructive bargaining as a partnership between employers and workers, represented by unions.

Peter grew up in Mexborough, Yorkshire, England, the son of George Carr, a printer on the South Yorkshire Times, and his wife, Marjorie (nee Tailby), who engaged in entrepreneurial endeavours such as making sandwiches for working men’s clubs. Peter’s first job after leaving school, aged 13, was as a building-site joiner. His leadership skills were already apparent and he was soon working as site manager. This was interrupted by national service with the UK Royal Air Force mountain rescue team between 1951 and 1953.

Sponsored by the UK woodworkers’ union, he then studied politics and economics at Ruskin College, Oxford. He went on to lecture in Yorkshire and Essex colleges on management, labour history and economics, his students mostly shop stewards and managers. In the 1960s he led pioneering exchange courses between UK, Swedish and French trade unions.

Peter took increasingly senior roles in UK governmental agencies: the Prices and Incomes Board; the Commission on Industrial Relations (CIR); the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas); and the Department of Employment. At the CIR and Acas, he helped to investigate, prevent and settle industrial disputes. Although as a young man he was active in the Labour party and the Fabians, Conservative as well as Labour UK governments repeatedly re-appointed him to key leadership roles.

He led international missions and was labour attaché for the UK government in Washington DC for five years from 1978. He organised study exchanges between US and UK union leaders and employers.

When Peter returned to the UK, he applied industrial relations skills as regional director of North East City Action, encouraging economic development. In 1990, he became chair of the Northern (English) Regional Health Authority and in this role, and subsequent ones, he led a transformation of health services. ‘His’ region became the best performing region in the UK National Health Service (NHS). He was knighted by the Queen in 2007.

He went on to chair the English NHS Trust Development Authority, when it was established in 2011. He served diligently in various roles until he was in his mid-80s.

His recreations included cinema, photography, cabinetmaking, cycling, cooking and US history. He founded the Northern Screen Commission, which found settings in the north for many films, including from the Harry Potter series. His memoir, It Occurred to Me (2016), humorously charted major moments of political history in which he participated. As a Europhile, he was appalled about Brexit.

He is survived by his wife, Geraldine (nee Ward), whom he married in 1958, son, Steve, daughter, Alyce, and four grandchildren. (Condolence Cards to: Lady Geraldine Carr, 4 Corchester Towers, Northumberland NE45 5NP, England. Donations would be welcome to ref. ‘Sir Peter Carr No. 1000420’.)

Both the NHS and the US Labor and Employment Relations Association (LERA) recently honoured his many achievements. Three UK universities conferred hon. doctorates on him. He served in many voluntary roles, including with all of the universities in north east England. For example, he was formerly a member of the Court, Newcastle University and of the Advisory Board, Newcastle University Business School.

To celebrate Peter’s life, there will be a memorial event in the Kings Hall at Newcastle University, UK, at 3.30pm on 18 December 2017. For details contact Melanie Reed, Events Manager, Newcastle University: [email protected]

Those wishing to contribute to the memorial event, please contact Peter’s son Steve: [email protected]

Steve added: ‘Whilst in the US, Peter got to know major figures in the labor and civil rights movements, including George Meany of the AFL-CIO (Peter shared his background in carpentry) and Stanley Ruttenberg who was labor advisor in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations and at the CIO. Peter cherished his American friendships and said that the lifetime achievement award he got from LERA meant more to him than his British Knighthood.’

This obituary draws on a published obituary that also includes a photo of Sir Peter Carr:

Greg J. Bamber Professor/Co-Director, Australian Consortium for Research in Employment & Work
Monash University, Melbourne, Australia
Visiting Professor, Newcastle University, UK