Tuesday rant – MOD miss meeting, “lost their bus-fare”

Tuesaday.  Worst day of the week.  So I think it will be my day for having a moan or a rant, sounding off about stuff. 

This was from the Times earlier this month; here's an extract.

Britain’s most senior defence adviser has not travelled to the US to see his counterpart in recent months because of a self-imposed money-saving travel ban.   The decision by Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup to lead by example in a cost-cutting drive during a period of intense  policymaking in Washington has been criticised by other senior officers.”

My sources tell me this isn’t an isolated event; travel of any sort, even from sites such as Bath and Bristol (where many MOD procurement folk are based) up to London has virtually stopped.  ‘Good’ I hear you say, ‘that’ll save some money’.

And to some extent I agree, but.....when times get tough, managers tend to go for cuts that are immediate and easy; and don’t strike at the heart of their own power base.   But they may not be the right ‘cuts’ in the longer term.  Easy fixes such as banning travel, ‘slashing’ consulting and advertising spend are understandable but they risk the danger of an organisation ending up in paralysis; a whole load of employed staff sitting around still pretending that everything is going on as normal; but beneath the surface, real progress has come to a grinding halt because people can’t travel, the consultant who actually was key to the project has gone, and so on.

I don’t know if this is still true, but this report explains that the Navy in 2008 had more Admirals than ships.  So why not address that as a cost saving measures?  Why not address some of the issues highlighted by the OGC Procurement Capability Review and the Gray Report?

Now, I’m sure some of those things are being addressed (and I know some damn fine MOD procurement folk), but they are difficult – and often long term.  So people choose the stuff that is quick and easy.  Like travel. But is there any real assessment of the impact such measures have on the organisation’s effectiveness?   How much might it have ‘cost’ the UK that the Chief of Defence Staff didn’t make that trip?  All for what – a saving of perhaps one week’s salary for one Admiral.

That is why organisations that are serious about cost reduction do two things:

  • They cut heads; starting at the top.
  • They cut out whole activities, and stop doing things (whole projects, product lines, processes. Not just ‘travel’).

And this will be needed in the UK public sector.  A gravitation to savings that are easy and not personally painful for top management – but have long term negative consequences -  is a real risk and the MOD case, trivial though it may seem,  is indicative of what I fear we have to come after the election (whoever wins).   It is why I believe it will not be enough for the Government to purely issue cost reduction targets to organisations.  Some strong guidance and probably quite hands on intervention will be needed to make sure that cost savings are made in areas that  may be painful for the top brass, but don’t put fundamental delivery at risk.

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