Thursday, May 11, 2006

Thieving bastards!

I feel a little conflicted about Nick's latest because all my sympathies are with him and against management consultants. However ... my admittedly limited experience suggests that teams of consultants who get overpaid by public sector managements (a) don't get paid so much in total that their take undermines the functioning of the sector as a whole and (b) that their advice is almost never causally implicated in decisions: managements employ them to legitimate the decisions they want to take anyway. So I'm pretty sure there's a hefty dose of bollocks about this column, even though it is bollocks that succeeds in making me feel all warm and indignant. Where are the numbers?

Nick also seems to think that it is wrong and somehow contaminating to have outsiders take part in public sector decisions. Well I agree that providing opportunites to hucksters and profiteers to benefit from their own advice is a bad thing, I've seen enough episodes of Yes Minister to think that leaving it all in the hands of the civil servants might not be ideal either.

Nick writes:

[New Labour's] tragedy, and the reason for its repeated failure, is that it has never understood how business works.

Which suggests that there is some X that Nick understands and which New Labour doesn't. I doubt it. Besides, I can think of a few more plausible candidates for "New Labour's tragedy" than overpaying GPs and cost overruns on computer systems.

BTW is it really true, as Nick suggests, that all the NHS computer problems could have been solved if only ministers had had a quiet word with Stelios and borrowed the Easyjet booking system? Readers with more expertise that I possess are invited to comment.

9 Comments:

Anonymous Backword Dave said...

His Arthur Andersen campaign is still going, then.

"On the other hand, it’s not a police state because the computer systems for the courts, prisons, National Probation Service and Immigration and Nationality Directorate haven’t worked." But why should Fascism and efficiency ever go together? Mussolini was incompetent, I doubt the Taliban ever kept proper records, etc.

However, I think you've missed Nick's real point. "The logic is reversed if you are a management consultant advising a government. Your interest is in getting as large a fee as possible. You do not recommend a proven program with all the glitches removed - where’s the money in that?" So while the fees for consulatants may a measly 1% of the total cost, that total cost is potentially huge. Of course, I think this is how EasyJet are advised too.

"This article first appeared in the New Statesman issue of May 15 2006." Nick is a Time Lord!

5/11/2006 04:16:00 PM  
Blogger Captain Cabernet said...

I don't think I missed that point. I covered it with the bit about consultants merely legitimating the decisions the suits want to take anyway. But I could be wrong about that, maybe some people employ consultants because they actually want advice.

5/12/2006 08:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess you have missed Nick Cohen's latest Standard piece because he didn't put it on his website.

You should look at it, because it really is shocking. After claiming Respect were as bad as the BNP, he now decides the BNP are not so bad after all, and says there must be a "rights for whites" housing policy. As low as he goes, really.


Must the Nimbys rule the housing roost?

NICK COHEN


THE LONGER a London dinner party continues, the more likely it is that someone will mention house prices. As soon as they do, it is time to leave.

Yet the interminable conversations about the shoebox around the corner being worth half a million and the delighted squeaks of "My house is earning more than I am!"

spell Labour's doom in the South-East.

Shoeboxes costing half a million are, of course, marvellous for owners if they want to cash in and retire to Brittany. They are a disaster for people trying to live and work without inherited wealth or good salaries.

Expensive housing and its shocking schools have given London an hourglass figure. At the top is a large upper class that can afford good homes and private schools. At the bottom are the poor in social housing who must put up with what schools they can get. In between, the need to find space and half-decent schools for their children squeezes out hundreds of thousands of the working and middle classes each year. Those who stay don't thank the Government for presiding over a market in which they pay much and get little.

Maybe it was just because she was starting a new job, but Local Government Secretary Ruth Kelly sounded less than convincing when she laid out the Government's strategy.

Obviously, we need to build on the green belt, as the new Tory leadership has been brave enough to acknowledge. As long as Lord Rogers and other megalomaniacal architects are kept away and we build homes with gardens people want to live in, no harm will be done.

But if they go up, Labour will upset the Nimbys in South-East marginals. If they don't, houseprice inflation will get worse in the South-East.

The politics are even more difficult at the bottom. Kelly said she wouldn't change the way social housing was allocated in response to the success of the BNP in using anger about immigrants jumping the queue.

It's not a great idea to surrender ground to neo-Nazis, but she is going to come under pressure to change her mind from good people on the Left who have realised that giving priority to immigrants fosters racism, while giving priority to single mothers provides a perverse incentive to single motherhood and the poverty it brings.

But if she listens to them and Uturns, middleclass liberals in particular will go berserk.

Food, water and shelter are the basics of life. If a government gets one of them wrong, it is in trouble - and Labour has got housing wrong.

Beautiful old take on the Eighties

THE TORY historian Geoffrey Wheatcroft recently claimed that one reason the Conservatives were all but annihilated after 1997 was that every political playwright, novelist and comedian had painted the Thatcherites as barbarians.

Looking back, I had to concede that he was right. What the artists said about the Thatcher years wasn't always unfair but it was always the same - and still is.

Alan Hollinghurst's 2004 novel The Line of Beauty, which the BBC dramatises next week, proves the point. It won the Booker Prize after the critics heaped plaudits on his elegant style.

Welldeserved they were, in all respects except one.

Only in pantomime could the BBC find an actor dastardly enough to play Gerald Fedden, a Tory Minister and Hollinghurst's villain. He is so desperate to please Margaret Thatcher that he has his front door repainted blue.

Although an aristocrat, he is socially insecure. Although a populist, he despises his constituents. He betrays his wife and his best friend, and his only redeeming grace is a tolerance of homosexuality that allows Nick, the gay hero, to stay in his Kensington mansion free of charge.

Inevitably, the tolerance vanishes and Fedden turns into a meanspirited homophobe in the final scene.

I, too, cried "Maggie Out!" and "Ditch the bitch!" on demos in the Eighties, but I never expected the Booker jury to reward me for my elegance.

THE SULTAN'S elephant was an astonishing spectacle. Never did I expect to see a giant mechanical pachyderm, with exotic women clinging to its sides, stomp the streets of Westminster as if it had nothing else to do.

As it left Horse Guards Parade, I caught a glimpse of John Prescott's official residence in Admiralty House and realised I'd just have to get used to it.

THE campaign against The Da Vinci Code by the Archbishop of Canterbury and Catholic cardinals is having a predictable effect.

Denunciations from clerics helped both the producers of The Life of Brian, a great film, and The Last Temptation of the Christ, a dire one.

And so it goes again.

Pre-publicity for the film is all over town, everyone I know is going to see it.

I've read the book and not only know that the film will be tosh, but what will happen at the end. The bishops have convinced me to go to see it.

5/12/2006 08:52:00 AM  
Anonymous redpesto said...

BTW is it really true, as Nick suggests, that all the NHS computer problems could have been solved if only ministers had had a quiet word with Stelios and borrowed the Easyjet booking system?

I suspect not: Andrew Rawnsley in the Observer made a similar error when he claimed that if Tesco can keep track of a tin of beans, why couldn't the Home Office keep track of ex-offender foreign nationals. If I've read your Watch post right, Nick seems to think that management consultants are bad, but business models which supposedly map easily on to the public sector are good. Only problem is, ex-offenders and ill people aren't tins of beans.

As for the ES piece, I really hope Nick doesn't want Labour to reframe its housing policy as a thinly disguised version of 'Rights for Whites' with 'residency' as some kind of euphemism - but then I hoped Nick wouldn't lose the plot as a result of his Damascene conversion over Iraq...and look what happened there.

PS: Does Nick always leave dinner parties when houseprices are discussed? Does he ever make it past the entrees? Or is it the equivalent of a dietary requirement ('I'm allergic to fish and endowment mortgages')?

5/12/2006 09:08:00 AM  
Anonymous Cian said...

"BTW is it really true, as Nick suggests, that all the NHS computer problems could have been solved if only ministers had had a quiet word with Stelios and borrowed the Easyjet booking system? Readers with more expertise that I possess are invited to comment."

No. Classic case of ignorant journalist pontificating on something he has no understanding of. Not that that's ever stopped Nick before (as the piece above on the housing market shows).

I'm similarly torn. I have no love of Accenture (who split off from Anderson's due to a culture clash - so he's being unfair there). Management consultants are definitely ripping the tax payer off. They build shoddy products, and overcharge for it - as do most of the large computer consultancies (IBM seem to be an exception). Most of the actual programming is done by new graduate hires (usually with highly technical degrees in things like history, english and the like) on many of their projects.

And their consultants unsurprisingly do tend to recommend that people hire Accenture to build a bespoke software system. But... most of Nick's comments in the piece are stupid, ignorant, or confused. There is no off the shelf system that the NHS can use. EasyJet's booking system is equivalent to the NHS's new booking system, in roughly the same way that SPSS is equivalent to Excel. There are similarities, but... Trying to adapt one for the other would be the act of a madman. With these kinds of projects the underlying technology is rarely the problem - its building stuff that meets the needs of the poor sods who have to use the computer systems.

As for the NHS project. There are all kinds of criticisms that can be made of the way its handled, implemented. However, it is the largest IT project that has ever happened. So inevitably there will be unexpected problems and failures - its the nature of any large scale project.

There also seems to be this wierd belief that the government is alone in having failed computer systems. It isn't - it's endemic. Commercial companies just don't talk about it. The failure rate is something like 60%, if memory serves.

He's probably right about ID cards, though.

5/12/2006 11:04:00 AM  
Anonymous Simon said...

For a man who so fearlessly rebels against the dinner party consensus, Nick doesn't half attend a lot of dinner parties. Anyway, I think there's at least one seal of dacre in there.

Btw, I don't think Rowan Williams has launched a 'campaign against the Da Vinci code'. He's said he thinks it is rubbish nonsense, which appears to be more or less Nick's opinion.

5/12/2006 11:09:00 AM  
Anonymous Backword Dave said...

Captain Cab: thinking about it later, I realised that you hadn't missed it; you wrote, "somehow contaminating to have outsiders take part in public sector decisions". I disagree with the "somehow" as I think Nick spells it out, but I concede that you didn't miss it.

On the computer thing, of course business models like Tesco and EasyJet can't map onto the Home Office. EasyJet recently stopped flying from Cardiff. They made their decision at time t0 and announced it in a press release at time t1 (I can't remember the dates, sorry). Between t0 and t1, they took bookings on their website (this is how I got to hear). Not a computer problem, more of management communicating to staff problem. As for tins of beans, you count them in, and you count them out. All the ones not counted out are either 1 on the shelves, or 2 nicked. It's not hard. Ex-Prisoners move about, keeping track of them is not so straightforward.

5/12/2006 12:57:00 PM  
Anonymous rioja kid said...

Well, we've got the endlessly spawning single mothers trope (ahem) again.

It's interesting the way that "good people" tend to crop up in Nick's work, in this case manfully stepping in with an opinion that Nick can't quite bring himself to offer on his own behalf.

I'm not altogether surprised either that Nick's so relaxed about the BNP. If you look at a lot of the websites prof Norm profiles (most recently Michelle Malkin), you'll find the idea of dhimmitude and associated nonsense actively promoted, and the BNP made this a centrepiece of their campaign in the local elections. The sensibility here is that the BNP are a regrettable symptom that illustrates how bad the Muslim problem is. Perhaps some "good people" will come forward and say something to that effect in a future article.

5/12/2006 01:13:00 PM  
Blogger fatbongo said...

Sometimes, bad people on the Left say that injustice fosters extreme islam. They are apologists for muslim fascism.

Muslim fascists are irrational, fanatics who hate our dancing. Their so-called 'grievances' about iraq are merely cynical propaganda designed to appeal to the ignorant masses and deflect attention from their evil totalitarian agenda.

You cannot give ground to these people on any front as this shows weakness and it will only encourage them to demand more.

Sometimes, good people on the Left say that giving priority to immigrants fosters racism They are not apologists for british fascists.

British fascists are irrational, fanatics who hate immigrants. Their so-called 'grievances' about housing are merely cynical propaganda designed to appeal to the ignorant masses and deflect attention from their evil totalitarian agenda.

We must cede ground to these people This is not a sign of weakness. It will not encourage them to demand more - after all, they have got a point haven't they?

5/13/2006 03:27:00 PM  

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