Monday, November 13, 2006

Defence of Boss Politics: A prelude

Chris Dillow has a long-running thread in which he promotes co-ops as a form of ownership. He argues that they are likely to promote a better quality of service.

This recent post is a good place to start, and, when you follow his link about how schools and hospitals can be turned into co-ops, you will find this as one of his arguments.

"Groups of like-minded teachers (say, according to their views on different educational theories) would bind together. The resulting difference in teaching methods would let us see what works and what doesn’t."

Now, I don't want to give any of you who have actually met me horrible mental image that will ruin your day, but the first time I read that line, I was a bit like Meg Ryan in that scene in 'When Harry Met Sally'.

I think you get my drift, don't you? Hold that image..... 3 - 2 - 1 *click*.

You're back in the room.

We can continue once you've had a wash. Where were we? Oh yes.
  • Like-minded groups, form co-ops and compete in the public interest.
  • Ideas tested!
  • Better attitude to customers!
  • All the benefits of competition, none of the downsides of unfair and exagerated hierarchies!
All good so far.

Two questions:

Firstly, why can't political parties do this as well? It would make elections really meaningful for the first time. The big barrier is, of course, the obsession with 'graft' in public life. At the moment, the public sector have to make services openly contestable. They have to go through a process whereby contracts are awarded* subject to 'sealed bids.'

Anyone who has ever been involved in this process knows that it's a farce. Surely, when you win an election, you should be able to replace the top level of civil servants with your own people, and you should be able to award contracts to the businesses that you choose.

If you win an election and then hand all of the business to your brother-in-law's outfit, that will undoubtely be seen as corrupt. But that is unlikely to happen because you will be judged on your results next time, surely? And anyway, corruption doesn't always - everywhere - equal inefficiency, does it?

So watch this space for more posts entitled 'In Defence of Boss Politics'

Secondly, I think that Chris has now established beyond any reasonable doubt that only a cretin would object to the replacement of all other management / ownership structures with some kind of co-op model**. So why aren't they ubiquitous?

A question that I will answer shortly. Don't move that dial!

*OK. I know it's a lot more complicated than this, and that the 'sealed bid' process actually masks a different sort of graft - the one whereby management consultancies with no expertise always win bids against companies that actually understand the prospective clients' needs. But lets not open that can of worms today, OK?

** This may slightly overstate his positon, but, again, bear with me.


Tim Almond said...

In the end, you sometimes need such roles.

The real problem is when an organisation has a command-and-control culture instead of motivate-and-guide. One manager I know views the hierarchy in reverse. That he's underneath his people supporting them getting their work done.

Leadership is essential, and sometimes, the expert in something isn't the best leader in something. Programmers can make terrible managers because they lack communication skills.

Ivan said...

'And anyway, corruption doesn't always - everywhere - equal inefficiency, does it?'
Yes, actually.

Paulie said...


Programmers and communications skills:

q: How do you keep a programmer in the shower for a whole day?
a: Give them a bottle of shampoo that has instructions to.. "wash, rinse and repeat."

Ivan. No it doesn't. Or at least, there are counterproductive levels of 'compliance' that are designed to reduce the supposedly unfair competition that arises when public officials have a personal relationship with a supplier, an irrational attachment to a brand or a personal definition of quality.

I'll admit, however, that the choice of the word 'corruption' was designed to provoke somewhat.

chris said...

You might have ruined everyone else's day, but you've made mine. I don't usually have that effect on people, even if I'm shagging them.