It probably shouldn't surprise me but I never fail to be amazed at the ability of consultants and contractors to seek a business opportunity to profit from the public purse. Even during a period of cuts they relentlessly seek to divert scare public resources from service delivery to their own profit margins.
This is well illustrated as I flick through the Holyrood Magazine's Public Spending supplement. It starts with an editorial quoting various neo-liberal economists making the case for 'reform'. Apparently the cuts won't be that bad, its just the planned increases in expenditure that are being cut. These people just don't live on the same planet as the rest of us, let alone public bodies wrestling with how to implement real cuts in services.
Then we have another neo-liberal guru (Tom Miers), who of course must be right because he has written a book. He churns out the old nonesense about the public sector 'crowding out' the private sector. Not a scrap of evidence is offered to justify this claim, but as the old adage goes, 'say it enough times......'.
Having set the scene for 'reform' we then get a series of articles and adverts from the consultants and contractors, who tell us how they can solve all our problems if only we will give them vast sums of money to install their software, reorganise etc. We are all heroically called upon to make 'a fundamental step change' or recognise that this is 'time for decisive action'. When the only action they really want is for public bodies to divert even more of their scarce resources into the pockets of these companies.
In fairness to Holyrood Magazine (unlike others) they do at least make an effort to provide some balance, including an article from me setting out our alternative approach. But you get the drift of the strategy.
This strategy reminds me of the quote attributed to the Roman writer Petronius in 210BC:
"We trained hard . . . but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams we would be reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization."
Management consultants have clearly been around for a long time!
This was brought home to me today in a practical way when looking at a proposed reorganisation of a large public body in my organising team area. This organisation used to have centralised HR and finance functions. Some years ago, following the latest management thinking, they decentralised. Now in the face of massive cuts they are centralising again. Just about everyone in this organisation believes that in ten years time they will reorganise again in the other direction.
The losers in this process are the staff who face further uncertainty, the service users who face disruption, and the rest of us who pick up the bill. The 'heroic' consultants are laughing all the way to the bank.