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This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Eighteen months ago I highlighted a story about the English health service spending 300 million in the previous year on consultancy companies – equivalent to the pay of 10,000 nurses. This was just the tip of the iceberg – with spending on consultants having got out of control under New Labour. A 2006 book on the subject suggested that spending had gone up 10 times under them. Four reasons for this –
• New Labour’s initial suspicion of the senior civil servants who had served a radical right Conservative Government for 18 years
• a naivety about the implementation of complex IT projects (and lack of coordination on them)
• The curious combination New Labour had of managerialism and social engineering
• the jobs and connections many of the new Ministers had had with big consultancies when in opposition.

A story in today’s Guardian indicates that in New Labour’s final years, the spending increased by a factor 50 to one in one department. The Ministry of Defence apparently spent only 6 million pounds a few years ago on consultants but its bill came in at 297 million in 2010. Curiously, The Guardian tries to put the blame on the Coalition Government but, on my arithmetic, 2009.2010 was still on the New Labour watch. What will be interesting will be to see the figures for 2011 – when the present government started its programme of reducing defence manpower by 60,000.
The paper did report a few days back that government departments have spent 30 million pounds hiring temporary staff to cope with the shortage of staff they are experiencing after the redundancies of the past year.

Exactly a year ago I drew attention to the publications of the National Audit Office (NAO) on the subject. The NAO is supposed to be the nation’s financial watchdog but started to look at the issue of consultant use only in 2005. Since then it has issued various reports exposing the bad practice and issuing both recommendations, guidelines and the inevitable “toolkits”. Their last report (issued in October 2010 for the new government) gives a useful overview of issues - and one of the annexes to the significant 2007 report is a helpful set of guidelines on increasing the commitment of clients and consultants during the projects.
It’s sloppy journalism on the Guardian’s part not to give this sort of background – and follow it up eg by asking whether the NAO has been asking what use departments have been making of their guidelines.
For those interested in the consultancy business, a more analytical study of the different types of consultancy has been done by a Canadian think-tank.

On the subject of slack journalism, it is a blog in Paris which tells us here in Bucharest that several Romanians have been on a hunger strike in an attempt to get some transparency on the crimes committed during the communist era. Doru Maries is near death - having been on hunger strike for 90 days. The local media have apparently given no coverage to this.

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