Wednesday, 10 August 2011


I was walking the streets of London recently staring up at skyscrapers full of people and wondering what they all did. As I sit on the train from Brighton looking at them tapping on their PCs or talking on their mobiles with blithe unconcern about revealing internal confidences I always think “is what you do actually worth doing? Does it make a real difference?”

When we hear about the “dreaded cuts” we all know that a refocus on business – stopping doing the many irrelevant things that get done merely because there are people enough to do them – would result in massive downsizing, improved profitability and better business. We’d stop doing all those surveys no one reads. We’d stop having meetings where nothing happens. We’d get rid of departments with nice people whom we didn’t really need.

We have a vast unwieldy civil service spread all over the place. The Civil Service has some great people at the top but some time-servers and lazybones too. Too many people doing stuff very slowly and not very well that makes no difference. I read the Department of Education in Britain is 100 times the size of that in Sweden.
And yet in neither the private sector nor public sector do we address the key issue of what really needs to be done and how to get it down most cost effectively.

Wouldn’t it be great to hear a Minister say “I don’t know the answer to that nor shall I bother to find out as the cost of so doing would in my judgement vastly exceed the benefit the knowledge might bring.”

Recently I met someone from Fire Brigade who described the most thorough, exacting and expensive recruitment exercise I’d ever come across. Something like 3000 applications going through 6+ levels of sifting resulting in 12 appointments. I may have these numbers wrong but the principle is valid. We just have to be better, faster, smarter and cheaper at what we do. The incentive to question the need of the action rather than recruiting the staff to fulfil it is missing.

One of the key questions today needs to be asked and asked and asked.

“Yes, but what do they all do?”

And unless convincingly answered some very tough decisions need to be made which I doubt if this government or any other would make themselves or really want to see made under their administration.

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