Friday, February 23, 2007

Britain's Worst Managers

Now why can't he take over the Home Office?
The hopeless Home Office has just lost a sex and race discrimination case at an employment tribunal. It will cost us taxpayers an estimated £2.3m.

The facts are that Marti Khan and Odette King were employed by the HO as interpreters at Heathrow. But "the women had been effectively redundant since 1990, when the Home Office outsourced interpreting to freelances. Officials failed to reassign them to other roles and though they were contracted to work 41 hours a week, they were paid to do nothing or asked to carry out basic clerical duties.

They could have remained in that position until retirement had they not complained to managers. Their complaints about the lack of work and that freelances were paid more were ignored by senior officials. They were signed off sick and placed on paid leave but after writing to Charles Clarke, then the Home Secretary, they were dismissed from their £25,000-a-year jobs."

The judge described the Home Office as "one of Britain’s least impressive managements" with a "consistent attitude of procrastination". But in fairness this is a familar tale right across the public sector: people being employed to do nothing (eg see this blog), people being placed on indefinite leave (eg see this blog), and managers failing to grasp nettles (see many previous blogs).

Personally, I doubt this is really sex and race discrimination. It's just another dollop of monstrously bad management.
Compare government departments with private equity firms. They are currently picking up all kinds of flak for heartless profiteering management. The GMB union is running a concerted campaign, among other things trying to get Gordo to withdraw the tax deductibility of debt.
This morning, for the first time ever, R4 Today interviewed Damon Buffini, head of Permira, one of Britain's most successful private equity operations. Clearly Today wanted to be critical, but the ill-informed Robert Peston didn't know what questions to ask. So the ever impressive Buffini came out well. And he patiently explained how private equity firms make money essentially by gripping management issues that have previously remained ungripped.
Yes, that often involves cost cutting, and yes, that can mean job losses.
But at the end of the process you generally have companies that are a whole lot fitter for purpose than say... well, say the Home Office.
What a shame private equity can't somehow be brought into government departments.

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