Cornish pasty?

I have been mystified as to why Cornwall Council’s cabinet continues to pursue a major, multi-million-pound, outsourced shared services deal when a recent whole-council meeting voted against the idea, and a petition has had more than 5000 local people register their objection. Beyond that, Cornwall’s leaders, one would have thought, are close enough to the SW1 debacle to have seen that as a serious warning, and the costly failures of similar IT-dominated outsourced deals continue to stack up. So what does Cornwall Council’s cabinet know that we don’t?

I have been told the answer. The chief executive of Cornwall Council worked for two of the outsourcing giants (Serco and BT) and has written a book about ‘Smart Contracting for Local Government Services’. So we have to wait and see whether he takes Cornwall down a wrong-thing-righter path or is, in fact, smart; a patsy or a cognisant? I guess time will tell.

DWP ‘nudges’ claimants

I was profoundly irritated by the book ‘Nudge’. It is out of the economist’s stable (the dismal science), and attempting, as is common with failed agendas, to grab new intellectual territory. So we now hear of ‘behavioural economics’ and we have a ‘Nudge Unit’ in the Cabinet Office. A minister’s dream: how do we get them to do it (what we want)?

The book starts out with a fiction, hardly strong ground for establishing a thesis. In short the reader is seduced into believing that putting healthier food before less-healthy food will cause children to choose better school meals. Only when you have been seduced by the ‘case study’ does the author admit it is a fiction.

The big idea behind ‘nudge’ is that you can persuade people through loading their choices, but the important feature of the theory – and that is all it is – is that people are left with a choice. But what you see with so many ‘nudge’ initiatives is tactical coercion, not loading choices.

And so to the DWP, who are deliberately putting claimants on hold when they ring DWP call centres, in order for the claimant to listen to injunctions to go on line. And if they hold on for a call centre agent, the agent has another go; all because the Universal Credit strategy is ‘digital by default’; more of a brickbat than a nudge.

See the report here:

HMRC resists going ‘digital’

HMRC is resisting the central government mandate to close call centres and move all services on line because, in their words, ‘it would annoy a lot of people’.

Quite; it would annoy a lot of people who are already very annoyed. But for how long will HMRC hold out? To calm ministers HMRC leaders talk of digital being ‘the future’ and say there is ‘no guarantee’ contact centres will remain open indefinitely. This could, of course, be a ‘P45’ position. [For overseas readers: a P45 is the form you are given when you get fired].

See the story here:


Profligate agility

The admirable people at ukcampaign4change, who have been campaigning against the Universal Credit, report that the IT costs are currently estimated to be over £600m; so we can be confident they will end up being far higher.

Apparently, the Agile community – software developers – are astonished that any ‘agile’ application could cost so much. Even if they are right we can be confident it would fail even if it cost less.

The UC is the next NHS; I was the only person In Business (Radio 4) could get to say the NHS computer system would fail when it kicked off many years ago. Recently I was asked by Newsnight to talk about the UC but they dropped the item. But no worries, the problem will only get worse. Watching it unfold would be fun if it weren’t so shocking.

See more here:
Is £492m cheap for Universal Credit agile project spend?

More doubters for Universal Credit

Seventy organisations involved in the benefits system have raised concerns about the UC. Leaving aside the question as to whether the IT system will ever work, most of their objections are concerned with the ‘rules’ that will live in the IT system; which, if the IT system ‘works’ as far as the techies are concerned, will ensure it doesn’t ‘work’ for claimants!

See the report here:

It is a sign of the times: more doubters than protagonists, but the protagonists pay no heed.

DWP hides the truth

Meanwhile – and thanks again to the people at ukcampaign4change – the Department for Work and Pensions won’t release consultancy reports it commissioned on Universal Credit because, it says they ‘might cause inappropriate concern’! The reports by IBM and McKinsey (oh dear) cost taxpayers nearly £400,000, but the public has no right to see them.

See more here:

Is Universal Credit really on track? The DWP hides the facts.

More targets than ever

We were promised by the Coalition Government that it would put an end to ‘New Labour targetry’. The minister for communities and local government dropped them for local authorities, but I have to say they have not been dropped by most we get to work with; primarily because local authority managers actually think targets to be necessary for management. Helping them see the folly of that is bread and butter to us. But my point is: without intervention there is no change in thinking.

It is for this reason, I am sure, that government agencies have actually seen a rise in the number of targets – reported to be up by 476%! Ministers think that targets will ‘get them to do it’; if only they knew.

See the report here:

Will Cameron still prefer Blond?

At the launch of the think tank Respublica, Phillip Blond and David Cameron walked down the aisle together. Cleary Blond is having a re-think. He wrote this in the FT:

‘Conservatives in both the US and the UK now represent vested over public interest, big business over small, international over national capital. They typify and defend an economic system that serves the minority rather than the majority. Conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic are narrowing opportunity, concentrating wealth and protecting monopoly interests. The centre right has almost ceased to do majority politics. It defines national interest in terms of the already powerful and increasingly abandons the middle and lower classes to their fate. They are persuaded by past fictions that what is in the interest of the winners percolates to those below them. In short, conservatives are unknowingly creating an oligarchy, one which will make us all plebs. By following the interests of a vested minority, conservatives may not win a general election for years. Of course, this is not conservative intention or wish but the rhetoric should not conceal the reality…

Now conservatives risk appearing indifferent to those left behind. The west used to have a self-sacrificing elite that believed in common values where everyone was important and had a role to play. Now we have a self-serving echelon that believes in nothing except itself and the results are all around us. Talk of plebs disturbs us not because it comes from our past but because it captures our present and increasingly describes our future.’

It makes me wonder if this explains the perennial problems with IT systems, outsourcing and so on; regardless of their efficacy, they feed the self-serving echelon. I hope not. I hope we continue to embark on the astonishingly costly failure associated with private-sector involvement in the public sector only because ministers have no ability to question the plausible. I am reminded of the time Margaret Thatcher pushed the button on ISO 9000 – she was told it would give us the ‘Japanese miracle’. How would she have known how to question that?

Anyway, it looks like the love affair between Phillip and Dave is over.

People in glass houses…

The new man in charge of procurement at the Cabinet Office has decided that IT suppliers who fail will be kicked off the list. Fujitsu is reported to be the first to be sent packing, owing to its failure with the NHS IT system.

I can’t help thinking he hasn’t thought it through as almost every large-scale IT project fails. If I had the time I’d supply you with a list of failures and culprits, indeed I think we’ll do that for a future newsletter. But one firm is least likely to get the push – Accenture – for the new man at the Cabinet Office is one of theirs, an ex-Accenture consultant. Now, how much did the Rural Payments Agency spend on Accenture to get an IT system that doesn’t work?

Snouts and troughs

The CBI has put out a report claiming the public sector could save £22.6bn by outsourcing more services. I asked my head of research to read it. He wrote:

‘The report is just a mix of reheated free-market ideology combined with some ‘evidence’ which is almost totally based on projected (i.e. not realised) savings from outsourcers.’

No surprise there then. Much the same ‘evidence’ has gone around the world’s government departments, unlike the abundant evidence of failure. See the news here:


Pretty d’awful

John Little, Vanguard’s lead in housing, wrote a blog lamenting the current obsession with PDAs – personal digital assistants, the hand-held computers you see being used by tradesmen and the like. What’s astonishing is that PDAs are considered to be ‘best practice’. What’s disturbing is that this and other ‘best practice’ features (which are also bad ideas) are now requirements by those who procure repairs services and proclaim themselves to be procurement professionals. Could you make that up? You can read John’s blog here:


Clever people decamp to Buckingham

I used to teach on the Cardiff LERC MSc programme. Although, as you know, I loathe the word ‘Lean’ and its associated nonsense, I put up with the title (it sells seats) and was happy to join in because I worked with some very clever people, all of whom had a similar distaste for the tool-head bandwagon. For example, John Darlington, who would teach manufacturing students how to start by understanding what kind of manufacturing system they had before they did anything else; Kate Mackle, who, likewise, taught how to start with ‘get knowledge’ in manufacturing, taking the high-level view before drilling down, and John Bicheno, a veritable store-house of know-how. These and others on the faculty were inspirational; I got a kick out of working with them.

But a new broom arrived. The very same ‘academic’ who got me kicked off a keynote speech (see newsletter, April 2011: http://beyondcommandandcontrol.com/april-2011/#2 ); the government ‘poster-child’ for ‘Lean’ and supporter of the debacle in HMRC amongst others; the academic who thinks asking people what they think constitutes research; the academic who makes a virtue out of tools training.

So the clever people de-camped to Buckingham University. If you want an academic qualification that is also an opportunity to learn from the best you can find out more here:

Seddon speaks

I went to a Think Tank event to discuss the perils of commissioning as practised. You can watch the panel discussion here:

Two forthcoming events which ought to be fun: These days I get invited to speak by those whose ideas I have always strongly opposed. The first, on 31st October, is a keynote for the Lean community. Besides explaining why Lean fails, I’ll be telling them I run a rehabilitation centre for ex tool heads; good people, merely misguided by the ‘gurus’. I’ll be telling them of my encounters with the gurus.
Info at: http://www.themanufacturer.com/eventsite/lean-immersion-programme/#agenda_

The second, on 27th November in London, is a debate on ISO 9000, 25 years on. You can guess which side I’m on. The IQA (as it was) treated me as the devil until I was asked to join as a fellow by a Director General who wanted me in the tent rather than out. The question we will debate is: What have standards ever done for us? Good question.
For info go to: http://www.cqiconference.org/

Public-sector book now translated into Spanish

This month I am off to Chile, invited to talk about public sector reform. By coincidence the public-sector book is now available in Spanish (thanks to Vanguard’s man in Spain):

Social care in Sweden

While most readers won’t understand a word of it, my Swedish readers might like to see the TV news clip about the Vanguard Method in action in adult social care: