Social Womengineering

In the comments under my last post, David Thompson remarks:

But apparently, it’s more important to have women “in every role,” at “fifty percent,” because people mustn’t “see policing as primarily a male-dominated job.”

When it comes to gender equality we are rapidly abandoning equality of opportunity in favour of equality of outcomes, the latter of which can only result in a deeply unhappy and dysfunctional society. Here’s another example:

By 2028, Qantas hopes 40 percent of its pilot intakes are female – a move that comes after Virgin Australia exceeded its goal of having at least 50 percent of its pilot cadet intakes female in 2018.

And another (H/T Ken):

Goldman Sachs wants half of the next intake of its junior recruitment programme to be women, and will hold its managers responsible for promoting more minorities to managing director as part of a new diversity push.

If men aren’t taking note of this direction of travel and preparing to do something about it, things aren’t going to turn out well for them – nor anyone else.

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One Man, One Vote

The financial press have a certain fetish about Total’s CEO Patrick Pouyanne. Here’s another gushing article:

Patrick Pouyanne pounced after Occidental Corp trumped Chevron’s $33 billion bid for Anadarko in April with an offer that includes raising financing by selling some of Anadarko’s operations worth up to $15 billion.

By keeping those in the know to a minimum, the French CEO was able to stay flexible in negotiations, take a swift decision and ensure there were no leaks until the binding deal worth $8.8 billion was announced on Sunday, a Total source said.

“Pouyanne proceeded in the same way he did with previous deals: a restricted task force, no bankers and no external counsel,” another source, close to the deal, told Reuters.

Throwing out the rulebook that expects CEOs to be surrounded by investment bankers and other advisers when dealmaking has become a trademark for the 55-year-old CEO and chairman of Total, who took the helm of the French energy major in 2014.

He has surprised investors with his acquisitions, such as buying Maersk’s oil and gas business in 2017 and Engie’s upstream LNG operations in 2018, setting one deal in motion after an unsolicited phone call with the controlling shareholder.

Shouldn’t we perhaps wait a little to see how rushing headlong into major deals while consulting almost nobody plays out over the long term? Look at this bit again:

a restricted task force, no bankers and no external counsel

You’d not hear this from fawning financial journalists, but Pouyanne has a reputation for yelling at anyone who doesn’t tell him what he wants to hear and demanding absolute obedience from all those around him (he’s a product of a grande ecole, after all). And here he is doing multi-billion dollar acquisitions in record time without involving bankers or outsiders. What could possibly go wrong?

For all the praise heaped on him, thus far Pouyanne is reaping the rewards of projects sanctioned by his predecessor. He has put considerable personal investment into Total’s Uganda project but that’s not exactly going according to plan:

French oil and gas major Total’s chief executive said on Thursday that the firm’s Ugandan Lake Albert oil project will be a personal priority this year after setbacks led to a delay on a final investment decision (FID) in 2018.

The project, which was expected to have been cleared last year, has been delayed due to disagreements over field development strategy, tax disputes and a lack of infrastructure such as a refinery or export pipeline.

Indeed, it has all the hallmarks of a development someone jumped into feet-first without carrying out proper due diligence and ensuring the right legal structures were in place. I don’t know if Total’s acquisition of Anadarko’s African assets is a genius move or not, but financial journalists should be asking questions over how decisions get made in that company, not blowing smoke up the CEO’s arse.

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Diversity Deaths

A reader directs me to an interesting article on the Boeing 737 Max problems, which I’ve written about before. Basically, Boeing wanted to fit larger and better engines onto an old airframe, and they could only do so in a way which changed the aerodynamic characteristics of the aircraft. This isn’t unusual, but with the 737 Max they changed beyond what is normally expected or allowed for a passenger jet:

An airplane approaching an aerodynamic stall cannot, under any circumstances, have a tendency to go further into the stall. This is called “dynamic instability,” and the only airplanes that exhibit that characteristic—fighter jets—are also fitted with ejection seats.

And:

It violated that most ancient of aviation canons and probably violated the certification criteria of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. But instead of going back to the drawing board and getting the airframe hardware right (more on that below), Boeing relied on something called the “Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System,” or MCAS.

In other words, they kludged it. They chose to use a software fix rather than a hardware redesign for obvious reasons: cost. And we start to get an inkling of what’s gone wrong from there:

The flight management computer is a computer. What that means is that it’s not full of aluminum bits, cables, fuel lines, or all the other accoutrements of aviation. It’s full of lines of code. And that’s where things get dangerous.

Those lines of code were no doubt created by people at the direction of managers. Neither such coders nor their managers are as in touch with the particular culture and mores of the aviation world as much as the people who are down on the factory floor, riveting wings on, designing control yokes, and fitting landing gears. Those people have decades of institutional memory about what has worked in the past and what has not worked. Software people do not.

Hmmmm.

In the old days, the FAA had armies of aviation engineers in its employ. Those FAA employees worked side by side with the airplane manufacturers to determine that an airplane was safe and could be certified as airworthy.

As airplanes became more complex and the gulf between what the FAA could pay and what an aircraft manufacturer could pay grew larger, more and more of those engineers migrated from the public to the private sector. Soon the FAA had no in-house ability to determine if a particular airplane’s design and manufacture were safe. So the FAA said to the airplane manufacturers, “Why don’t you just have your people tell us if your designs are safe?”

Ah.

Thus was born the concept of the “Designated Engineering Representative,” or DER. DERs are people in the employ of the airplane manufacturers, the engine manufacturers, and the software developers who certify to the FAA that it’s all good.

So we’ve gone from the FAA employing people who know what they’re doing and make sure an aircraft is safe to one where…well, we know the pattern by now:

Former President Barack Obama’s administration implemented a plan to “transform” the FAA into “a more diverse and inclusive workplace,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta announced in May 2013. The decision was backed by administration officials and labor unions.

True, this concerns air traffic controllers but as numerous examples featured on this blog have shown, the primary purpose of many modern organisations, especially those in the public sector, is to provide employment for middle class voting blocs. So the FAA turned itself useless and basically asked Boeing to mark its own homework.

Now this is not quite as sinister a conflict of interest as it sounds. It is in nobody’s interest that airplanes crash. The industry absolutely relies on the public trust, and every crash is an existential threat to the industry. No manufacturer is going to employ DERs that just pencil-whip the paperwork. On the other hand, though, after a long day and after the assurance of some software folks, they might just take their word that things will be okay.

That’s human nature kicking in, and an awful lot of effective management is getting people to work in structures which sometimes run contrary to human nature. Your normal, societal instincts would tell you to take someone you know and trust at their word that something is all right. A proper management system would insist a check is done and verified, ignoring the human relationship between the parties.

So Boeing produced a dynamically unstable airframe, the 737 Max. That is big strike No. 1. Boeing then tried to mask the 737’s dynamic instability with a software system. Big strike No. 2. Finally, the software relied on systems known for their propensity to fail (angle-of-attack indicators) and did not appear to include even rudimentary provisions to cross-check the outputs of the angle-of-attack sensor against other sensors, or even the other angle-of-attack sensor. Big strike No. 3.

None of the above should have passed muster. None of the above should have passed the “OK” pencil of the most junior engineering staff, much less a DER.

That’s not a big strike. That’s a political, social, economic, and technical sin.

I suspect what we’re seeing here is the result of decades of business school managerialism whereby the middle and upper management forget what the company exists to do – return value to shareholders by making planes which don’t crash – and instead believe their raison d’etre is something quite different. As I mentioned in my previous post, Boeing boasts on its corporate webpage that it has more than 40 diversity councils. How many councils does it have checking vital software is properly coded?

I had an interesting discussion with one of my professors yesterday, kicked off by this post on the hippy entrepreneurs who were selling environmentalism. Marketing started off selling products, and then sometime in the 1960s or ’70s switched to selling lifestyles. Now it’s changed again and it’s selling ideology, more often than not political ideology. It’s difficult to see which way the causation runs here, but this change has coincided with major corporations moving from returning value to shareholders by selling goods and services to trying to change mankind. Organisations obsessed with diversity, preaching morality, and endlessly droning on about some utopian future is not a business, it is a semi-religious movement. It’s one thing to say that this is just smart marketing, but are we certain those driving it are, behind the scenes, focusing on delivering a sound product and not wholly caught up in believing their own propaganda campaigns? The people running companies are drawn from the same sections of society and the same schools and universities as the political classes who genuinely believe the ignorant plebs need to be led by the nose to a bright utopian future of diversity, multiculturalism, and earth-worship. At this stage I think it’s rather charitable to think modern corporations are run by hardnosed business people who make a few progressive noises for PR purposes, and not by lunatics steeped in the dogma pumped out by the social science departments of American academia. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I don’t think anyone can dispute the direction of travel.

So our capabilities are dropping away. There was a time when Boeing would have known what systems and processes to put in place to ensure a plane is airworthy, and they’d have employed people with the knowledge, skills, and character to implement them. In parallel, the FAA would have employed competent, experienced people who could be trusted to sign off on an aircraft only if it was safe. But Boeing’s priorities changed along with those of the FAA, reordered to place social justice, inclusion, and diversity at the top as they proceed with their mission to remake the world according to their ideology. And now we have planes dropping out of the sky and killing hundreds of people in accidents due to colossal organisational failings from outfits that are preaching to us about morality.

I’m going to start calling these diversity deaths.

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Pot-au-feu

I’m not surprised by this:

The ex-boss of France Telecom and six other former executives have gone on trial in Paris, accused of moral harassment linked to a spate of suicides among employees.

Didier Lombard and his fellow defendants deny their tough restructuring measures were to blame for the subsequent loss of life.

The company, since renamed Orange, is also on trial for the same offence.

Thirty-five staff took their lives between 2008 and 2009.

Some of them left messages blaming France Telecom and its managers.

At the time, the newly privatised company was in the throes of a major reorganisation. Mr Lombard was trying to cut 22,000 jobs and retrain at least 10,000 workers.

Some employees were transferred away from their families or left behind when offices were moved, or assigned demeaning jobs.

The French management style – or what passes for one – consists of appointing the best students from the grandes écoles to the top management positions regardless of industry experience. While these individuals are undoubtedly very bright, they often lack the emotional intelligence which genuine leaders have in abundance. They set up a top-down command-and-obey organisation in which absolute obedience from subordinates is demanded, or their careers abruptly ended. Promotion and advancement is based on the degree to which an individual has not fallen foul of the boss. It is probably as close to an Asian power model as can be found in Europe.

The problem is the French are not Asians, and the stress this puts on employees is immense. During France’s golden era of industrialisation this probably didn’t matter as the organisations were doing well, but as globalisation is forcing companies to adapt or die, French management has been found wanting time and again. Total, for example, is a company with operations in 131 countries yet retains French as its official working language for the convenience of those in headquarters and to preserve an outdated model of cultural identity. French management, in parallel with their political counterparts who are drawn from the same schools and with whom swapping positions is commonplace (see here again), are proving incapable of doing the job which is assigned to them. Their response is to take it out on the employees.

One might argue that France Telecom needed to lay those workers off, but they might have witnessed a decade of blithering managerial incompetence prior to that decision, making retrenchment a bitter pill to swallow. And if you’ve hung around French companies as long as I have, you’ll know these suicides don’t just happen in times of redundancies; we used to hear the stories filtering down at my last place of work. I also know at least one case where a complaint of harcèlement moral was brought to HR concerning a manager, and their response was to do whatever was necessary to protect the management. I suspect this is commonplace; little wonder French unions still enjoy high membership rates.

I suspect as the large French companies come under increasing competitive pressure from globalisation, the failings of their managerial cadres are going to get more pronounced. Sadly, it will be the ordinary workers who pay the price.

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Sums of a Preacher Man

Yesterday I went to a startup hub – basically a building where budding entrepreneurs pay low rent to work and hang out – to watch about eight presentations by people looking for investment. Each entrepreneur had 6 minutes to make their pitch and a further 4 to answer questions, so it was a bit like Dragon’s Den only instead of multi-millionaire dragons they had a gaggle of students, professors, mates, and folk who came along for the free craft beer.

The first thing I noticed was out of the 70-odd people there, only two were in a suit and tie: me and one of my professors. The rest looked to have come from an office job where they don’t meet outsiders, or straight from the pub downstairs. Those pitching for investment – from between 100k-300k euros, so not trivial sums – dressed as though that’s where they were headed immediately afterwards. I watched a lot of episodes of Dragon’s Den, and one of the things which drove Peter Jones nuts was people wandering out in jeans and a t-shirt and asking him for a million quid. I raised this afterwards with a couple of people and was told young people just don’t dress up like that any more. Which I am sure is true, but do the young people get any investors to part with their cash? Last night they didn’t appear to have anyone reaching for their wallets, even to pay for drinks.

Their disheveled looks probably weren’t the main problem, though. That would be their general business sense and their ideas of how to make money. It took me two pitches to spot the problem. Climate change, environmentalism, and sustainability nowadays seemingly infests every area of business life, and nobody seems capable of shutting up about it. If someone is trying to sell you coffee, they speak for ten seconds about the quality of the coffee and for ten minutes on how much they care for the environment. Decades of incessant brainwashing has worked well, and environmentalism truly is the new religion. There are a couple of problems with this, however. Firstly, it assumes that their entire customer base consists of the western middle-classes who are rich and woke enough to run around fretting about a dolphin they saw on TV offshore Bora Bora with a biro stuck up its nostril. While the number of customers eagerly checking the fine print on the back of the packet to make sure there were no orangutans killed in the making of this particular batch of organic, freshly-squeezed kumquat juice is undoubtedly growing, most people still just want a cheap product that works and doesn’t contain arsenic. And there is a big difference between not wanting to turn pristine nature into Norilsk and worrying about whether a product’s carbon footprint is a little too large. Most customers are in the former category, whereas the latter are a wealthy niche.

Secondly, it assumes environmentalism is an end it itself, and not just another trade off between competing resources. Remember this post I wrote about reusable carrier bags, where I referenced a Danish study which showed they were worse for the environment that single-use bags? As I said at the time, very few people, particularly the dim middle classes who campaign for environmental legislation, understand that recycling is an industrial process like any other only with different inputs. So a lot of these business ideas I heard yesterday took an existing process:

Production  – Use – Landfill or Incineration

and turned it into:

Production – Use – Recycle – Production

And assumed that simply because it’s being recycled it must by definition be good for the environment. But this is only true if the resources consumed during the recycling are less than those consumed making the stuff using fresh inputs, and that the pollution generated during recycling is less than using a landfill or an incinerator. Otherwise, by definition, they’re making things worse. Did I see any such calculation and comparison? Did I hell. No, the assumption was that recycling must always by definition be better for the environment.

Several of the business ideas involved a recycling process which involved driving around collecting tens of thousands of objects, transporting them back to what can only be described as a large industrial facility guzzling power, water, and other raw materials. The objects are then processed using chemicals and a sizeable amount of human capital, with each person having to somehow get to work everyday. Nobody seemed to have understood the impact this will have on the environmental calculation, let alone the economics of the whole thing. It was just presented as “Recycling! Sustainable! Yay!”

So what we were dealing with wasn’t businessmen but ideologues. It looked more like a hippy commune than a startup incubator. At half-time a chap came on stage and said the world is headed for catastrophe if we don’t stop using resources at the current rate, because we’ll simply run out. That basic economics would tell us otherwise went unmentioned, as did the old trope that the stone age didn’t end because we ran out of stone. He said their task was to persuade everyone “we need to change our lives and our behaviours”, which sounded a lot more like the basis of an evangelical religion than a business. Maybe that explains the frequent appeal for angel investors? He then said the plan was to approach big business and persuade them of this need to change, and to embrace environmentalism and sustainability. At this point I wondered where he’d been living the past fifteen years. Since I have been working, big business has fully embraced environmentalism and sustainability, that’s all they go on about. They have whole departments devoted to haranguing their employees to turn off the lights, reduce emissions, cut down on waste, and spend millions on PR showing everyone how green they are. What does this chap think he’s going to find in a major corporation, top-hatted men opening oil wells into rivers for just for fun?

And that’s the problem. These lot were supposed to be startups promoting new business ideas, but instead they were selling old political ideology. The product was environmentalism, their business just the vehicle it was riding on. It probably wouldn’t surprise you that I later learned this startup hub received a chunk of its funding from the government. In other words, it’s another lefty middle class racket. Did I mention my wallet stayed in my pocket all evening?

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Who’s the new girl?

A reader alerts me to the existence of a listed company called Regeneration Rethought – U+I. Aside from having a name which makes ChangeUK The Independent Group sound catchy, we learn they are:

a property developer and investor focused on regeneration.

with:

a £9.5 billion+ portfolio of complex, mixed-use, community focused regeneration projects including a £145.7 million investment portfolio in the London City Region, Manchester and Dublin.

So they’re a multi-billion dollar property development outfit. Okay, fair enough. On 3rd April 2019, they appointed a new non-executive director, Professor Sadie Morgan. Here’s what the press release said:

The role will oversee delivery of U+I’s commitments to community engagement in PPP projects, as well as also oversee the establishment of a workforce advisory panel, in accordance with new governance regulations, to support employee engagement and membership of an internal design panel – all intended to reinforce U+I’s commitments to talent, creativity and community.

Ah, so this company is big into PPP – public-private partnerships – whereby the government gets capital expenditure off its books by signing dubious long-term contracts with favoured companies to provide government services.

Prof. Morgan is a founding director of dRMM Architects and Stirling prize winner. And she is Professor of professional practice at Westminster University. She chairs the Independent Design Panel for High Speed 2, reporting directly to the Secretary of State, and is one of ten commissioners for the National Infrastructure Commission. Prof. Morgan is also one of the Mayor’s Design Advocates for the Greater London Authority.

Ah yes, High Speed 2, that shining example of slick project execution and sound financial stewardship. And how handy that someone so close to government decision-makers in the fields of property development and planning should find themselves on the board of a large private property developer! So what will Prof. Morgan bring to the table in return for her undoubtedly hefty pay packet, aside from a direct line to the decision-makers in local government?

“I am delighted to be taking on this ground-breaking role. I was brought up in a co-operative community in Kent that had been set up by my grandfather, and so I grew up with a real sense of inclusion, purpose, community and responsibility. This appointment allows me to help U+I turn those beliefs and commitments into action involving what will, I am sure, be major schemes of huge importance to the communities involved.”

Paragraphs of leaden, jargon-filled corporate-speak which reads as though it were churned out by an algorithm created by someone who grew up in locked shed with a nothing but a pile of local government newsletters for entertainment. But it’s not all bad news: we don’t need to worry ourselves about human trafficking or slavery:

U+I believes that the detection and reporting of slavery and human trafficking is the responsibility of all employees. During the year all employees were required to undertake specific training with regards to Anti-Slavery and Human Trafficking. In addition, all new employees are required to complete this training as part of their induction process. Should any employee have a suspicion of slavery or human trafficking in any part of the business or supply chain they are encouraged to raise this at the earliest opportunity.

Why do I get the impression this is more serving the interests of those giving the training than anyone being enslaved or trafficked?

We are committed to ensuring that human trafficking and slavery play no part in any activities carried out by U+I or our supply chain.

That’s a relief, but why use slaves anyway when you have taxpayers?

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ScumOfUs

Yesterday I received yet another email (I get a lot of them these days) from one of the thousands of hard-left political campaign groups masquerading as a charity:

International consumer watchdog SumOfUs has filed a shareholder resolution proposing that Mastercard establish a committee on human rights, to address the threat posed by far-right extremists.

The resolution highlights that extremists like Tommy Robinson and known far-right hate groups use Mastercard, but none of the company’s existing board committees have responsibility for overseeing human rights issues. Shareholders argue that this leaves the company exposed to risk on human rights.

One would have thought a consumer watchdog looked out for the interests of consumers rather than attempt to silence political figures by forcing companies to withdraw services from them, but then Oxfam was supposed to help hungry people not organise gang-bangs with destitute teenagers in Haiti.

Eoin Dubsky, Campaign Manager at SumOfUs, said: “We know that Mastercard currently accepts credit card payments to several dangerous hate groups and extremists like Tommy Robinson. This proves that its executives cannot currently manage the human rights risks associated with the business.

“We were alarmed when the corporation mounted a legal challenge against our resolution. It would have done better to put the time and resources spent on fighting our proposal into addressing legitimate concerns that its consumers, employees and shareholders have about human rights. 

“As we’ve seen to such devastating effect in recent months, gone unchecked, hate speech has terrible consequences for innocent people. We look to all corporations to play their part in ensuring their services and products aren’t used to sow the seeds of discrimination, hatred and violence. It is essential that companies like Mastercard have the policies and processes in place to deal effectively with hate speech and human rights abuses.”

Under the guise of protecting human rights, this outfit wants to remove essential services from anyone who disagrees with their hard-left political viewpoint. Now Mastercard is one of the most woke corporations out there and, if the internet is to be believed, behind the deplatforming of several wrongthinkers from Patreon and PayPal. That they have swatted away the demands of this particular group of nutters suggests even they might be wondering where this is all heading. If Mastercard were to start withdrawing services from existing customers because of their political views, they might suddenly find 30,000 people maxing out their cards and refusing to pay their bills in an act of “political protest”. That’s going to be a bigger problem than a few edgelords complaining they’ve been kicked off PayPal.

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Dinosaur Petrola

A few weeks ago news broke that Chevron had bought US independent Anadarko for $33bn, the largest oil and gas acquisition since Shell bought BG in 2016, bigger than Total’s acquisition of Maersk Oil in April 2017. The acquisition is obviously done to boost Chevron’s US shale and LNG production, so it’s very much a US-centered affair. It is this passage I want to focus on:

Chevron, Exxon, Royal Dutch Shell Plc and BP Plc largely missed out on the first phase of the shale bonanza, when more nimble independent producers such as Anadarko pioneered shale drilling technology and leased Permian acreage on the cheap.

One of the things which surprises me is how slowly the oil majors are reacting to cataclysmic changes in the oil and gas industry. But their lumbering clumsily about in the US shale plays while nimbler outfits cleaned up is really just a sideshow. The real change is in how the oil majors will do business in future. Gone are the days when a supermajor would turn up in a stone-age society, bung the local chiefs some shiny trinkets, and bring in a battalion of palefaces to exploit the reservoir for the next 25 years. Nowadays national governments control pretty much every sizeable oil and gas prospect regardless of which foreign company holds the licence, and nothing is going to get developed in future without the full cooperation of the government or their proxy in the form of a national oil company. This has been the case for some time now, and the past decade or so has seen a rapid increase in local capabilities, whittling away the added value foreigners bring.

In short, oil companies are becoming less owners of an oilfield than service contractors to the real owners, the government. This is an entirely different business model requiring a flatter organisation with strong local subsidiaries who are able to make decisions and do business according to the peculiarities of the region. Thus far, none of the majors have shown much interest in restructuring along these lines, instead growing ever larger and centralising power with a handful of decision-makers cooped up in a gargantuan HQ back in the home country. I expect it is the mind-boggling revenues still being generated from legacy fields which gives them the luxury of ignoring how the industry is changing.

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Hit where it Hertz

Few of my regular readers will be surprised by this story:

The US corporation hired monster management consultancy firm Accenture in August 2016 to completely revamp its online presence. The new site was due to go live in December 2017. But a failure to get on top of things led to a delay to January 2018, and then a second delay to April 2018 which was then also missed, we’re told.

As Hertz endured the delays, it found itself immersed in a nightmare: a product and design that apparently didn’t do half of what was specified and still wasn’t finished. “By that point, Hertz no longer had any confidence that Accenture was capable of completing the project, and Hertz terminated Accenture,” the car rental company complained in a lawsuit [PDF] lodged against Accenture in New York this month.

Hertz is suing for the $32m it paid Accenture in fees to get to that aborted stage, and it wants more millions to cover the cost of fixing the mess. “Accenture never delivered a functional website or mobile app,” Hertz claimed.

The whole thing is worth reading, even if just to reconfirm what most of us already know about the practice of hiring large consulting firms. From getting the basics wrong:

Among the most mind-boggling allegations in Hertz’s filed complaint is that Accenture didn’t incorporate a responsive design, in which webpages automatically resize to accommodate the visitor’s screen size whether they are using a phone, tablet, desktop, or laptop.

To bait-and-switch tactics:

The team working on the project was pulled off by Accenture “but their replacements did not have the same level of experience, and a good deal of knowledge was lost in the transition.

And the inevitable extras:

When the rental giant’s execs asked where the tablet version was, Accenture “demanded hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional fees to deliver the promised medium-sized layout.”

It’s all there.

(Via Tim Almond)

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Notre Damned

Andrew Neil makes the mistake a lot of people make when it comes to contemporary disasters:


I am confident underfunding of the project won’t be the cause: it will have been eye-wateringly expensive. As I’ve written about at length on here, the problem is that modern organisations are infested with managerialism whereby compliance with the latest fad – often government imposed – is given higher priority than making sure the electrics are safe. I’ve seen the compliance hoops contractors have to jump through just to participate in tenders for the public sector and large corporations. Last September commenter Graeme gave us this gem:

“Since the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act (MSA) in 2015, UK companies with turnovers above £36m have needed to produce a statement setting out the steps they have taken to eradicate slavery and human trafficking from their operations and supply chains. Of the 9,000 to 11,000 companies in scope, all should have published a first statement prominently on a corporate website by September 2017. By March 2018, only 5,600 had done so, according to CORE, a coalition made up of nongovernmental organisations (NGOs), academics, lawyers and trade unions that focuses on corporate responsibility.”

Companies nowadays not only have to demonstrate they employ the requisite number of women and aren’t mean to their LGBT employees, but also that their entire supply chain is free of child labour and exploitative practices and they are not helping to perpetuate slavery and human trafficking. This wildly inflates the cost of any project, and keeps dozens of middle class graduates employed giving presentations to one another in air conditioned offices, but adds little value to the job actually getting done. This has reached the point – as we saw with Carillion (1, 2) – that the core business of many large companies nowadays is overcoming the compliance hurdles and buttering up the right people (mainly by employing them in a cosy public-private revolving door system) so they can win contracts. How they then actually go about doing the work is of secondary concern, and most of it will be subcontracted to the lowest bidder. At a guess, the works on Notre Dame were managed by an army of people shuffling paper while the electrics were installed by a contractor who had the lowest bid and spoke Arabic better than he did French. Supervision would have been negligible with QA/QC consisting of a piece of paper signed off by someone who never physically saw the completed works.

This is speculation and I may be wrong of course, but Notre Dame did catch fire and it wasn’t supposed to. Between the entire project being underfunded and a scenario similar to that which I describe above, I know which one I’d choose.

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