how to steal watches

September 2, 2006

“The annual bill for Whitehall consultants advising government departments is running at more than £2.2bn, an investigation by the Guardian reveals today….Revenue and Customs is paying £750 a day to consultants to design IT schemes, alongside civil servants doing the same work for £120 a day…. The former Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, now the Department for Communities and Local Government, paid £44m to consultants over five years to handle a scheme to set up regional fire and rescue centres which has been condemned by MPs, the Fire Brigades Union and fire officers. This bill is more than the cost of salaries in the ministry’s fire division over the same period… Two firms were paid undisclosed sums running into millions of pounds for two years of work on the now abandoned scheme to introduce home information packs for people wanting to sell property.”
Way back in the pre-Blair era when i was in the civil service (that shows how ancient I am) we had to get consultants in to do a ‘market test’. I spent 2 days with these snake oil merchants explaining what I did and how my department functioned, gave them lists of targets and objectives, figures, organigrams, the lot. A few weeks later I received a draft full of stuff about ‘integrated qualitative categorising of deliverables’ but which got the substance all wrong. (One of the consultants had taken to depositing his mobile proudly on the desk in front of him and when, as invariably happened, his wife called, would have long conversations about what cheese to buy. This only stopped when I suggested he include the conversations verbatim in his report). Anyway, I re-wrote the report for them, keeping all the jargon (as otherwise no one would have believed a consultant had written it) but correcting the substance. As a result, the market test was quietly dropped, the consultants trousered 100k and I was allowed to get on with my job.

The name of the conultants? I’ll give you a clue. Their website boasts that they “can help you optimise your performance by aligning the goals of your organisation with the aspirations of your people…  We offer scheme quality assurance, diversity and implementation reviews, as well as new system design, balanced scorecard approaches and competency framework development.” Which is another way of saying ‘we’re still in the business of stealing watches, folks, and no one has rumbled us yet!’


2 Responses to “how to steal watches”

  1. britgirl Says:

    LOL. A familiar and irritating highly irritating scenario.
    But did they not offer to “strategize”, “grow your business” “incentivise” your front line? They couldn’t have been “real” consultants I fear.
    As an internal consultant, meaning I use my expertise to solve problems, I consider myself totally separate from the “snake oil merchants” who manage to convince companies that they will collapse without their highly expensive services.

    For one thing I am accountable for my outcomes. For another I am too busy for the BS.And I’ve always been a fan of Plain English.

    Don’t forget though, that sometimes the external consultants are parachuted in to moot/do a job that is “politically unpopular” internally. I remember when I worked in local government this was common. Some people aren’t prepared to listen if the message is delivered internally. But they will when a consultant gives it. Same message. Different messenger. Bigger bill.

  2. tomeemayeepa Says:

    Valid points, all. I even worked as one myself for a few years (gamekeeper turned poacher turned gamekeeper) and I remember that sometimes you were brought in simply to impress senior management rather than come up with any worthwhile solutions (there’s another ‘snake oil’ word.)
    btw if ever you’re stuck for the right word there’s a marvellous jargon generator here:

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