Obituary: Peter Rendle - Distinguished public servant whose work benefited Scotland’s schools and hospitals

Born: 31 July, 1919, in Truro, Cornwall. Died: 16 December, 2011, in Edinburgh, aged 92

PETER Rendle, who died shortly before Christmas, made a distinguished contribution to the work of the Scottish Office, especially in health, education, housing and public finance, bringing to his work a warm personality, a capacity for clear-headed analysis and a dedication to the public good. In his private life he also made a substantial contribution over many years to the sport of hockey as player, umpire and administrator.

Peter was proud to have been born a Cornishman but received his secondary education in Worcestershire at the Queen Elizabeth School, Hartlebury. He joined the Ministry of Transport from school in 1936 and was called to serve in the Royal Navy in 1940.

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His time afloat was mostly spent in the motor launches of the Light Coastal Forces, first off the coast of West Africa and later, after promotion to lieutenant, in the English Channel.

He did not often talk about what he did in this distinctly hazardous branch of the service but it was clearly an experience which he greatly relished and which strengthened his ability to ride out storms of a different kind later in his career.

He also managed to meet his bride-to-be, Wren Second Officer Helen Moyes, whom he married in Edinburgh in 1944, a marriage which was to last more than 67 years.

After his return to the civil service after the war, Peter was rapidly promoted, transferring to the administrative class in 1949.

A year later he moved to the Department of Health for Scotland in Edinburgh; he was to remain within the Scottish Office until his retirement.

In the early years he carried out distinguished work on building standards and later, fortified by professional training in work study, he was a key member of an inter- disciplinary team which did innovative work on hospital ward design, which saved the time of nursing staff and allowed them to spend more time on patient care.

In 1963 Peter was promoted to be head of the school building division of the Scottish Education Department, to which he brought a breath of fresh air and a practical grasp of what was needed to meet the challenges posed by the post-war birth rate, an ageing stock of buildings and the imminent raising of the school leaving age to 16.

Working closely with architects and HM Inspectors of Schools he radically altered the system of control over school buildings to allow more flexible designs, managed a major expansion of the school building programme and arranged for the development of standard designs for school extensions to meet the needs of the pupils who would now be staying in secondary school for an extra year.

One special part of the programme, on which he worked closely with Judith Hart, the education minister in the mid-60s, provided purpose-built hostels to house children from the remoter parts of the Highlands and Islands who would have to move to larger secondary schools to finish their education after the leaving age was raised.

In 1973 Peter was promoted to under-secretary in charge of the housing divisions of the Scottish Development Department. From 1974 the incoming Labour administration made housing one of its key social priorities, promoting public sector house-building and introducing a rent freeze across the public and private rented sectors.

These initiatives required complex negotiations and legislation in which Peter provided a prominent lead and secured the confidence and trust of all those he had to deal with.

Finally, in 1978 Peter took on the role of principal finance officer of the Scottish Office and had to cope with the run-up to the devolution referendum of 1979, the very difficult fallout from the failure of the referendum and the impact on public spending of the incoming Conservative election later that year.

He retired in 1980 after making a most distinguished contribution to public administration in Scotland. Many colleagues throughout public life in Scotland will treasure his memory, not only for the work he did but also for the calm, reasoned approach he brought to the job and for the sheer pleasure of working with him.

In retirement Peter carried out an important study of HM Inspectorate of Schools, served on the Scottish Island Councils committee of inquiry and was a member successively of the Legal Aid central committee for Scotland and the Scottish Legal Aid board.

In his private life Peter was heavily involved with hockey, with a long playing career at Inverleith (culminating in becoming the club’s honorary president) and service as an international selector, international umpire and vice-president of the Scottish Hockey Association.

He gave freely of his expertise to the Cockburn Association and to St Serf’s Parish Church and he enjoyed the arts in all their forms, especially photography and the theatre, deriving particular pleasure from his membership of the Scottish Arts Club.

Peter Rendle was supported for 67 years by Helen, who survives him, as do his three sons, six grandchildren and one great-grandson, in all of whom he took great pride. RUSSELL HILLHOUSE