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Councils should learn from orchestras

No doubt much money is wasted on management consultants in both local and central government - although this is an area where there is rather more rigour than under the Labour Government. While they grew rich the consultants would often find it frustrating - all the time wasting meetings, the reports that nobody read, the confusion over what the project was supposed to be about.

But this should not mean that councils should be inflexible about their employment arrangements. Sometimes taking someone on for a particular task - which might be temporary or part time - makes perfectly good sense. It could well offer good value for money. Of course it should be done within the rules and it should be transparent. But there is nothing wrong with hiring people via personal services company.

There was a predictably shoddy and politically biased piece of BBC journalism this week on this subject in a Radio 4 File on 4 programme by Fran Abrams. I have already written about it in a Daily Mail blog.

In contrast I found it refreshing to read a column (£) by Derek Myers, chairman of SOLACE (the trade union for Council Chief Execs) for the Municipal Journal. As part of an economy drive we share him as our Chief Executive in Hammersmith and Fulham with Kensington and Chelsea.

Anyway, he thinks councils could learn from the example of orchestras.

He writes:

I sat next to the managing director of a famous orchestra at dinner recently. It was sparkling company, and I learned a lot.Orchestras are co-operatives.

All the players are self-employed and see themselves as part of a company. They elect their own representatives with whom the managing director negotiates when it comes to tours, fees, timings and all the practical ways in which great art has to rub up against cold reality.

This sense of community promotes high standards. Peer pressure seems to encourage the relatively indolent, and identifies those who need to be eased out. Promotion owes nothing to length of service and everything to talent.

He also notes that "74% of businesses in London employ no staff." A " dramatic rise" in the number who are self employed.

He adds:

We all know someone who works in local government who says they prefer to be an interim rather than a permanent member of staff. They describe their flexibility and the variety. What does this tell us about the world of work?

And does it suggest that our traditional notions – that permanency and security are the necessary pre-conditions for great teams – may well be a bit old fashioned?

Instead of careers being about "the size and scale of the responsibilities you sit on top of" they will be about "the achievements you can notch up and the rate at which your daily hire rate can credibly ascend."

Is it true that this emphasis on "individual competitive aspirations must be ruinous of team work?"  Not, says Derek, if orchestras are anything to go by.


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