Monday, January 29, 2007

An impossible task ?

Good Guy minister John Reid is still under pressure today, and will be for some considerable time as he continues in his quest to make The Home Office "fit for purpose".

He has likened the job to renovating an old house, you never know what problems are waiting for you until you start stripping off the old wallpaper, at the moment he hasn't even been into some of the rooms yet, let alone started removing wallcoverings - he is warning of more disasters in waiting.

His "Good Guy" image in the media comes from the fact that he is always ready for a quote and an interview and always tells it like it is, there is no hidden opinion, no problem wallpapered over with him, he's good for a soundbite, the press love him.

And so how hard is his problem, how difficult will it be for him to kick arse and get a massive government department "fit for purpose" ?

Well, it will be very difficult, if not impossible.

The problem with a government department is that they achieve nothing that is tangible.

Compare with the renovating an old building quote again - my background was in the building trade - when you start on a project you have something very tangible in front of you, a building, and something else very tangible is your quotation and order to do the job for a set price in a defined time and nowhere are timescales more imperative than in the building trade where one subcontractors half day delay can put the whole contract back by weeks.

If John Reid were in charge of a house renovation then he would be able to assess his progress on a daily basis and at the end of the contract he would know whether or not he had achieved his objective (ie is the house still standing) and he'd know whether he achieved it within the budget and whether or not he made a profit on the job - he would have a tangible way of measuring his own performance and all the sub-contractors under him in a tangible way.

Go back to a government office that has been run in a particularly wastefull and careless way for many years, maybe decades - you have your sub-contractors as different departments within that huge building, each of whom are run by civil servants who only know one way to run the department and do not take too kindly to a media friendly Scot coming in and telling them they are wrong, especially when he is so keen to tell the worlds press that they are wrong.

Out here in the real world employees jobs are rarely for life any more, most people will work for several employers during their life, only in the civil service do you regard your position in the office as set in stone, you're virtually unsackable if your job cannot be measured in any way and even if it can you tend to have an employer who would rather move you to somewhere else in the organisation than dismiss you - the most common cry in any civil service department is "think of the pension".

I have a friend who is a time served civil servant, 32 years at the desk, ten years ago he was offered a redundancy package that was far in excess of anything that he'd get out here in the real world, he was tempted and spoke to me of investing some of his money in my company and coming to work here as a partner, he was very keen on the idea in fact - but he changed his maind after a week or so of conversations with me when the realisation set in that out here in the real world you cannot depend on a salary every month, nor a pension scheme at the end of it all - you are totally responsible for bringing in the work, doing the work, completing the work to your clients satisfaction, and then most importantly getting paid for the work - only then can you pay yourself, your employees, the invoices for your vehicles, petrol, goods purchased, your tax bills, the office overheads, and maybe something for a pension scheme that is not guaranteed to pay you anything like a normal salary at some undefined point in the future.

How much easier is it to sit behind a desk, deal with work that someone else brings to you, draw your salary at the end of the month and have a guaranteed pension at the end of it all ?

Thats the attitude that is endemic in the system, that is what John Reid has to work with.

He has my sympathy, he has an impossible task.

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