Sunday, June 19, 2005

Consultants bleed you dry

As Birmingham City Council prepares to ink a contract to agree a £300 million consultancy package over the next decade, I find myself in agreement with the scrutiny committee on the council wondering why the well-paid managers can't find answers for themselves. According to the review documents submitted to the scrutiny committee, they already have some ideas, but can't possibly develop strategies to achieve their aims without the magicians from Capita or one of the other 'strategic partnerships' on offer.

I'm not saying that there isn't a role for a fresh eye on some subjects, but I'm at a loss to understand why there should be a ten year contract, rather than specific contracts for specific projects. To my mind, the whole business case for involving an outside group should be reconsidered.

I'd also place a bet that one of the chief recommendations of the consultants will be to outsource various aspects of the council's operations and that another branch of the consultancy will be ideally placed to offer a financially-attractive deal (stuff the quality of service). Nick Cohen has an apposite article in the Observer today. We only have to look at the quality of outsourced IT projects delivered by major contractors to understand just how poor a deal the taxpayer and the council employees really get from consultants and their sidekicks. It is arguable that the chief role of consultants is to take the blame for cock-ups and unpopular changes.

Bluntly, if your managers and their staff can't find cost-neutral service improvements and financial savings or lead through a change process, get some new managers, not some consultants.

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