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Friday, February 24, 2017
Opinion: Keep consultants out of Church
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¬†The people in any organisation can be defined in terms of animal types. So they will be classified as owls, foxes, donkeys or sheep. This was some of the instructive advice that came forth from management consultant David Bancroft Turner addressing the recent Caritas Social Action conference in Cambridge. Many wondered who Mr Bancroft Turner was and what he was on about. Why had he been invited to speak at the £360 a head conference on social justice? Has Caritas Social Action redefined the Church's traditional option for the poor in favour of an option for the middle class professional? The whole episode suggested yet another Church organisation falling under the hypnotic fix of the gurus of management speak. The spread of consultants throughout the public and corporate sphere has been an accompanying tendency of neo liberal management structures. Banks and accountancy firms were among the first to see an opportunity to profit from offering consultancy services. Seeing a chance consultants moved into become a driving force and major beneficiary of many privatisations of public assets. For example, it was on the recommendations of consultants that the railways were broken into over 100 separate entities and sold at knock down prices. Consultants also advised management to take share options and pension holidays from workers pension funds. The latter boosted short term profitability for the company but later brought the pensions crisis. For many the arrival of the consultants in the office often signals job losses. If a consultant comes in, does a study and then recommends redundancies it helps the management distance itself from the nasty business of sacking people. Government Commerce estimates that central government spent £2.5 billion on consultants in 2004/5 alone. The biggest spender that year was the Department for Transport which spent £193,300,000 on consultants. At local government level there is an increasing plethora of consultants being employed. Lambeth Council is reported to have spent £7 million on consultants since taking office in 2002. In the case of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets some £1,015,500 has been paid out to one PR consultancy alone over the past six years. In one of the poorest areas in the country where life expectancy in some parts of the borough is as low as 58, maybe the money could have been better spent. Consultants come in many shapes and sizes from the large companies offering consultancy services for government or business to individuals setting up as advisors on their own. Critics of the consultancy culture suggest that many of the breed are actually failed members of a said profession who then choose to rebrand themselves as consultants. So there are failed journalists who hire themselves out as consultants. Failed teachers who recreate themselves as consultants to advise on education. Health service managers who offer consultancy services. The key to finding work as a consultant are the informal networks that operate in whatever the work area, a real case of who you know rather than what you know. Now no doubt there are many consultants around with genuine expertise offering good services to their various clients. However, there are also plenty using the label who recognise a gravy train when they see one coming along and are all too ready to jump on board. The consultant has not come to dominate in the area of Church structures yet but the worry has to be that as managers go seeking new ways of doing things anything with a 'professional' managerial allure will look attractive. There is a strange naivety among some who inhabit Church structures regarding the largely unknown world of business. A belief that business always knows best way and that those who make money in often unscrupulous ways will just as easily give it away to a good cause. The Church must not fall into the same trap as the Labour Party which has got itself into some incredibly embarrassing positions as a result of its desire to please big business. The most obvious recent example being the party funding scandals. The irony in the Labour Party case is that dependency on big business has been driven by a desire to get away from a reliance on the funding ties that link it to working people via the trade unions. This link was the reason the party was set up in the first place. Consultants have a role to play but the Church would do well to look closely at the phenomena and those who occupy the territory before going too far down the road of giving these often self appointed people roles in deciding how Church structures should run. It is maybe a case of when supping with a consultant always use a long spoon.
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