Here come the in-sultants
When I first started in local government one of my major bug bears was the fact that there were so many consultants operating within my council. It seemed that at the time every single council department had a consultant or two reviewing, implementing or otherwise prognosticating about the performance of one service or another.
My argument at the time was that if the council staff were good enough to do the job they were surely good enough to spend some time reviewing the service, if not of their own service (they might be too close to it) then certainly that of one of the other services in the council.
Flash forward a few (non-specified amount of) years and the craze seems to have caught on. Local authorities are falling over themselves to set up central teams of internal consultants made up of enthusiastic staff who are willing to take a short secondment into a separate team to ‘transform’ the council.
For ease of expression I describe these staff as in-sultants.
These teams have the potential to do a lot of good; after all unlike the consultants of days gone by they actually know the particular authority, how it works, what cultural aspects need to be taken care of and what changes have already been tried and failed. Being from within the organisation what they say should be taken with a little more respect by other staff (we’re all in this together right?) than when it comes out of the mouths of no-it-all £1000 per day consultants.
Finally, and not insignificantly, it is a substantially amount cheaper than if the local authorities bring in consultants.
However, not all is rosy in the in-sultant garden. Often, these teams are envisaged as secondment only teams and therefore tend to attract only lower level staff, who see it as an opportunity, rather than the experienced managers who are increasingly being marginalised.
These younger staff are often enthusiastic, committed, smart and willing to go the extra mile. However, being young can often be a disadvantage, especially when trying to sell these new ideas to sceptical older managers. I’ve heard some pretty bad stories from friends new to local government who have found these roles as pretty intimidating.
The other dangerous thing is that often these staff become true believers and a little unbending in their implementation of ‘transformation’. This can make them a little unsympathetic to the ordinary members of staff who find the massive change difficult to cope with and are less than enthusiastic about it.
However, on balance the rise of the in-sultants has to be welcomed and is, in my mind, yet another indication that local government can be basically self-sufficient and that the past reliance on consultants has come to it’s natural end.