Immediately after retiring from a career in chartered accountancy, the author spent six years as the Honorary Treasurer of the Prisoners’ Education Trust, following on from an invitation from Sir Stephen Tumim, former H.M. Inspector of Prisons. There was an enormous growth of the charity from 1996 onwards, when the annual turnover was just £12,000, rising to more than £250,000 when he stood down in 2002, and almost £1,000,000 in 2012. Its overall objective is to reduce re-offending through the provision of education, in the form of distance learning. This would have resonated well with George Dixon in the 1860s, for one of the factors which motivated him to campaign for compulsory and free elementary education nationally was a sudden crime wave locally in Birmingham. A change in legislation had prohibited the employment of children beneath a certain age in workshops; previously such legislation had only applied to children in much larger factories. By 2010, the charity had made 20,000 grants to prisoners, and here the author (on left) stands beside a plaque at the entrance to Wandsworth Prison commemorating that event. On the right stands the then Chair, His Honour John Samuels, Q.C., and in the centre the former Chair, Lady Andrew.
In 2014 the charity is celebrating its 25th anniversary. Recent research from the Ministry of Justice reveals that the reoffending rate is reduced by over a quarter for a PET cohort of over 3,000 individuals compared to a matched sample.
The author is involved in another activity not far removed from the overall George Dixon theme. The fictional PC George Dixon of the 1960s television series Dixon of Dock Green has no direct connection whatsoever with the nineteenth century politician and educational reformer, but it so happened that Sir Michael Balcon who was responsible for the film The Blue Lamp, which led to the subsequent television series, had been educated at a George Dixon school. The author today is the secretary of the East Putney Safer Neighbourhood Team Panel which meets regularly at London’s first mosque, opened in 1924. The Ahmadiyya Community is pleased to host such meetings, a reminder that in the nineteenth century the pace of educational advance and reform was seriously impeded by Christian sectarian rivalries and bitterness. The East Putney ward has for some years enjoyed some of the healthiest crime statistics in the London Borough of Wandsworth, itself the safest of the inner London boroughs.
George Dixon’s base was the town of Birmingham, which only became a city in 1889. Culturally, it was poles apart from the established capital, London. By contrast, Birmingham was somewhat brash and new. The author is a liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Tax Advisers, which received its Letters Patent as recently as 2005. Since then, he has participated in three Lord Mayor’s Shows.
In the 2005 Show, each participant represented different taxes levied through the ages. Bearing a large banner with the name of the brewers Young’s, he walks in the procession, adjacent to St Paul’s Cathedral.
The theme was the same in 2008, and this time he portrayed the game of bingo, calling through his megaphone as he passed Mansion House, in the true spirit of that game, “Number Ten, Gordon’s Den”. The backdrop here is again St Paul’s Cathedral.
For 2013, a new theme was found, the Company’s strapline being “Green Taxes make the World Go Round”. In pouring rain, participants hurried up Queen Victoria Street on their way back to Mansion House. Birmingham in the 1890s was given to a fair amount of celebration, and many of the leading figures of the day were commemorated by statues – other than George Dixon, who considered that money was better spent on education, and scholarships in particular. He said very little on the subject of taxation, but he was astute enough to play off one government department against another in order to obtain maximum funding for the newly-created Seventh Grade Technical School.