Crossing to the dark side
Today the excellent Guardian Local Government Network are running a live web chat advising possibly redundant Local Government officers about how they might become consultants. For those interested the chat will be at midday and is available here. I urge those of you facing the chop to check it out.
I genuinely do not know how to respond the Guardian’s piece.
Obviously I have nothing against them running it. The Local Government Network provides support and advice to local Government workers and the piece is very logical. As they say in the pre-amble:
For many, consultancy seems like a natural career progression, particularly if you’ve specialised in a certain area, and it’s a proactive way of getting ahead of the redundancy curve. Plus, we all know that when it comes to finding a new solution to an old problem, local government has a history of turning to consultants – could this be you?
100% logical: As mentioned above Local Government does have an addiction to consultants which is worrying; even in tough times. A visiting consultant in my authority confided that in his experience he hasn’t seen so much work for consultants as is available right now. The reasons for this consultancy dependence are many; but three key ones seem to sum it up:
1) Lack of trust in the current staff of the Local Authority (sometimes this is not a negative thing; on some complex issues the current staff would not have the capacity. However, this is not always the case)
2) A need for external validation; sometimes a difficult decision can be made easier for a senior manager if she can point out that her view is shared by the good people of PWC
3) A belief that bringing in consultants externalises the risk and ensures that the job will get done. (In reality all that is externalised in the potential blame as if it all goes wrong at least we can blame the consultants.)
I see a role for consultants but there are simply too many in Local Government. Sometimes I find it embarrassing; sometimes just depressing.
Despite this, my disquiet with the Guardian session is actually more complex.
It is linked to my mixed feelings about consultants. On the one hand I thoroughly dislike consultants; not the people themselves you understand who are often excellent, but the fact that Local Government constantly needs them to come in and do what we feel unable to do ourselves.
On the other hand I am deeply envious of them. Local Government is very hierarchical; change is incremental and as a junior officer life can get very frustrating. No matter how good your ideas are, how hard you work or how radical your proposals might be you are undoubtedly going to come up against some form of objection before your idea reaches the areas of the organisation where decisions are made.
As an example, you could do worse than check out this blog.
In contrast consultants are often treated as oracles. A few years ago a good friend of mine left local Government to join a consultancy firm. A few months later I bumped into her and we discussed her life. Yes, she worked harder than me (or at least worked longer hours!) but she had a direct line to the Chief Executive of a very large local authority. In fact he had phoned her on a Friday night to discuss the work she was doing; she wasn’t impressed; I thought the concept was marvellous and was very jealous.
Generally when consultants come up with big plans it seems to me that their ideas are treated with the benefit of the doubt. Junior officers’ ideas tend to face the opposite treatment.
So, if you are a passionate local government officer who genuinely believes in public services AND is confident that your ideas and skills could lead to improved local services why would you stay in Local Government? After all, you could have more impact in the private sector advising the council. In my darkest moments I even convince myself that this is for the best all round. I will stop being blocked by senior managers, my job satisfaction will improve and I’ll get paid more; what’s not too like?
The problem with this is that if everyone does this how will Local Government kick it’s addiction to consultants?
While I try and work out my mixed mind I’ll be tuning into the Guardian’s web-chat; after all I always get really good advice from the consultants!