Adding consult to injury

21 June 2005

G.K. Chesterton once said, on the use of capitalism to cure social ills, that:

“It was the mystical dogma of Bentham and Adam Smith and the rest, that some of the worst of human passions would turn out to be all for the best. It was the mysterious doctrine that selfishness would do the work of unselfishness.”

I was mindful of those comments when, via Nick Cohen in the Observer, I browsed the website of a new book, Rip-Off!, a long-needed expos? of the wanton avarice within the management consultancy industry from an insider, with particular reference to the ‘reform’ of public services; the case of an NHS trust being foisted with an American consultant, and being expected to cover not just his fees but the costs of moving him across the Atlantic, and the expense of housing his entire family and schooling his children, is shocking, especially as he was no more special than any British consultant that could have been hired.

For too long the consultancy industry has often been able to charge exorbitant fees for the same advice (which most of the time can be boiled down to cut costs, fire people) the client would have got if they’d kept the operation in-house, with little public coverage. With a few honourable execptions such as Private Eye and the odd Guardian investigation into PFI health and education projects – both a result of New Labour’s thrall to the consultant’s spiel – there is little scrutiny of such murky dealing. Given that it costs the taxpayer ?1.9bn a year to pay for consultants’ advice, this is pretty shameful. This book is a welcome arrival. The first chapter is available free as a PDF, and is highly recommended reading; my order for the rest of the book is in the post…


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