We thought it appropriate to include the full text of the following article,
as referred to by Lawrence in his recent argument that
control-centralisation by successive UK governments was suffocating us all:
Why the centre cannot hold...
Things fall apart under the meddling of Blair Ltd's experts, says Robert
Guardian Unlimited Work
Sunday August 12, 2001
The grandest enterprise in the land (Blair Ltd), likes to ape its
private-sector counterparts - save for one overwhelming exception. The truly
modern business decentralises wherever and as far as possible. Blair Ltd
proudly does the reverse.
It has only to see a 'problem' to monopolise the solution. Whether it's foot
and mouth, teaching standards, the Underground, hospital waiting lists,
railway safety or business competition, the Man in Whitehall knows not only
better, but best. When the centralised answer (as usual) fails, another
monster promptly rears its ugly head.
This long-standing, self-defeating British tradition has been intensified
under the Thatcher-Major-Blair axis - very curiously, given the simultaneous
strategy of devolution. Power has been devolved, not only partially to
Scotland and Wales, but near totally to privatised industries,such as BT and
BA. Yet the decentralisation is highly conditional. If the private milk
curdles (see Railtrack), the public sector rushes to the rescue - or the
The maestro of Gulf War logistics, General Gus Pagonis, vigorously opined
that wholesale reorganisation is a company's worst course. Nestli's CEO,
Peter Brabeck, has likewise attacked 'big disruptive change programmes' and
their underestimated 'traumatic impact'. Every reorganisation upsets
relationships, threatens morale, delivers unexpected and usually deleterious
side-effects, diverts management time from external issues (like pleasing
customers), and often only paves the way for the next pointless upheaval.
The decentralised model means to end this nonsense once and for all. You
split organisations into discrete units, as near to the front-line and the
customers as possible: place the units under autonomous managements with
authority to deliver on their promises, then sit back and supervise. If
failure makes intervention inevitable, you intervene - not to change the
system, but the management.
The system is honoured as much in the breach as the observance. Top British
managers are prone to interfere with sub-units, notably by imposing central
strategies that vitiate efforts by the sub-managers to lead their charges to
success. All the same, few (if any) of the private sector managers admired
by Blair would dream of advocating centralisation because it cannot possibly
Running a 700-bed hospital, for example, is a most daunting managerial task,
which involves the daily coordination of thousands of people. Most are not
under management's control - above all the patients. The latter can only
relate to the system at the most local level: one-to-one. Any approach other
than local autonomy of discrete units has no chance of working. In fact, no
matter what centralisers propose, the localisers inevitably dispose, as the
saga of the waiting lists reveals.
Impose central targets on people, and they will adapt their behaviour, not
to improve their performance, but to meet your targets. The classic
management guru, W. Edwards Deming, taught managers to concentrate instead
on improving the system from which 85 per cent of underperformace stems.
Blair Ltd, however, specialises in making bad systems even worse, for
example, by piling supervisory layer on layer (viz. the hapless and hopeless
Railtrack and its overlords). The Tube formula, with its absurd division
between track and transport, is another recipe for shambles.
The reorganisations of the NHS and education have followed the same
counterproductive pattern. What else would you expect? These schemes are
devised, usually at ministerial behest, by civil servants who know little
about management, and probably think less, and who are not expert in the
practice of medicine, education, justice or transport. The inevitably
misshapen plans are sold to politicians even less qualified than the
A prime example of the resulting idiocy (among all too many): medicine
suffers from severe shortage of doctors, who take much time and money to
train, so some sublime economiser actually and uniquely rationed the number
of undergraduate medical places. This guaranteed that the shortage would
last for years. Maybe it was the same clever fool who invented the 'internal
market' in healthcare, a 'product' for which demand is insatiable, which is
not price sensitive, and which is inherently uneconomic.
One horrible side-effect was to convert GPs from pill-pushers to
pen-pushers, for which most have neither time nor talent. At a time when
Blair Ltd's private heroes are striving to reduce or eliminate bureaucracy,
public-sector red tape is proliferating like duckweed. Worse, administrators
are being asked to become managers when they lack the authority or
leadership qualities required. Worse still, vast reservoirs of knowledge
about public sector operations exist among those who work therein -- but
their opinions are sedulously ignored.
The prevailing attitude is neatly illustrated by 'the new unified
[centralised] Child and Family Court Advisory Support Service'. CAFCASS is
determined to convert self-employed child guardians, willy-nilly, into
full-time employees. The official defending this policy unwittingly (or
witlessly) put his finger on the problem. 'You can't', he told a BBC
interviewer, 'have autonomous individuals in a public service.' Delivery of
excellent service, which the private sector itself finds so difficult to
deliver, depends on the autonomous actions of motivated and well-organised
individuals operating in decentralised systems.
Such systems remove an impossible load from centralised management.
Monopolising too many and too com plex tasks is alone enough to explain the
gross cumulative failures of Blair Ltd.
Private-sector management is having to learn two huge lessons. For success,
not only must people involved in implementing a strategy fully support what
only they can execute; but the greater their involvement in strategic and
operational planning, the bet ter those plans. Avid, knee-jerk centralisers
create rods for both their own backs and those of the overmanaged suppliers
and dissatisfied recipients at the sharp end. In modern management, that end
is the beginning of all wisdom.
Robert Heller is the author of Roads to Success (Dorling Kindersley, #25)
From the Warmwell website:
"The Foot and Mouth - Full Public Enquiry March.
On Saturday 27th October there will be a march in Gloucester to demand a
full public enquiry in to the government's handling of Foot and Mouth.
Please meet at 12:30 pm.
At the park and ride over spill car park, just past the cattle market
adjoining it some rough ground where there will be speakers and music from
Seize the Day. Gloucester is central and will provide an opportunity to meet
others from around the country; until now just a voice on the end of a
telephone. At 2:30 pm we will march on the local government Building, Shire
Hall, in the town centre (DEFRA's building is sadly too far away). Please
bring banners drums, etc. to lend to a colourful yet hard hitting and
powerful day of non-violent direct action. We MUST all stick together and
fight the appalling Welfare Cull which threatens to far outweigh the FMD
crisis. Our demand is simple. We want a full enquiry before we are all wiped
out by large faceless conglomerates who are rapidly claiming our land and
heritage. The March will then continue to the huge Tesco next to the cattle
market, where locally grown produce will be displayed on stalls."
Also posted on the warmwell site:
Court Action Threat
Farmers across the country are preparing to take the Government to court if
their call for a public inquiry into the foot-and-mouth crisis is refused,
it was revealed today. A letter calling for a public hearing has been sent
on their behalf to the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Secretary Margaret Beckett. If the Government refuses to grant a full
inquiry, legal proceedings for a judicial review will begin, headed by
leading barrister and farmer Richard Lissack QC. Solicitor Tim Russ said
today that a dozen farmers who had suffered in the crisis - from Devon,
Cumbria, Northumbria and North Yorkshire - were involved in the initiative
and others from Wales were also expected to join in. Devon-based vet Wendy
Vere, who gave evidence to the county's own recent week-long public inquiry
into the crisis, was also involved, said Mr Russ. The letter sent to the
Secretary of State from Mr Russ' firm, Taunton-based Clarke Willmott and
Clarke, pointed out that 2,030 cases of foot-and-mouth were recorded in the
world's worst outbreak of the disease. "The general public has a legitimate
interest in there being a full inquiry into all aspects of foot-and-mouth.
From the Farmers Weekly website:
17 October 2001
Virus could return, warns Beckett
By Alistair Driver
RURAL Affairs Secretary Margaret Beckett has warned farmers to prepare for a
resurgence of foot-and-mouth disease.
Mrs Beckett was responding to a question from the House of Commons
Agriculture Select Committee on Wednesday (17 October).
"It will be a miracle if we get through the autumn movement period without a
resurgence of the disease," she told MPs.
Committee chairman David Curry had asked Mrs Beckett when it would be
possible for farmers to say that the epidemic was over.
Chief Veterinary Officer Jim Scudamore said the government was working out
the criteria for when England and Wales could be declared disease-free.
"When we have had no disease in the country for three months, will be one
criterion, and when all counties are disease-free will be another," he said.
Mr Scudamore warned that there may have to be more blood tests of livestock
in some areas to demonstrate that the virus has disappeared.
Sixteen days have now passed since the last case of foot-and-mouth on 30
September. However some animals have been slaughtered as a precaution.
More than 100 counties and unitary authorities were now disease-free. Only
two counties have had outbreaks in the past four weeks.
Tonight's joke is from Sara:
Two crabs walking along a beach, one spots an apple and sidles over to it
and starts eating.
"Can I have a bit?" asked crab 2.
"Certainly not, I saw it first" said crab 1.
Crab 2 shouts "Shellfish b*****d!"
from Alan & Rosie