It’s important to stick to your morals within the weird and wonderful world of consultancy

I ALWAYS enjoyed doing consultancy work, initially as a university lecturer in the early 1980s, but I was later made redundant from this role in 2006.

This was the lesson that has since kept me in touch with the real world: the waste sector changes so much every year that unless you are at the coalface, you’ll end up with egg on yours.

I attended too many college and university lectures where the speaker was talking about work experiences, but the speakers just seemed so out of touch with the audience – and when you go down this road, you’ll soon be found out.

Consultants off er clients expertise that they might not have in-house, or an opportunity to demonstrate openness and fairness.

It’s not what you know, and it’s not who you know either

I had a few briefs from councils that were re-tendering a large contract and needed an impartial chairman to demonstrate any previous relationships bidders might have had with the local council, which consequently had no bearing on the fi nal contract award decision.

At Strathclyde University in the early 80s, I was approached by an action group who were opposed to their council developing a local quarry as a new landfi ll. My brief was to come up with a technical case to stop the project by demonstrating that the council’s staff had got it wrong as, in the group’s view, the site wasn’t “suitable for a landfi ll”.

I visited the location and then had to tell the action group that I’d spent most of my working life looking at sites - and this one was excellent for a landfi ll. I couldn’t act for them as it would go against the grain of everything I was teaching students at the time.

52 SHWM February, 2019

So they simply found a national consultancy who was prepared to take on their case and who successfully argued at the ensuing public inquiry that the evidence submitted by the council wasn’t as good as it looked. But at least I could sleep at night!

Consultants come into their own when unpopular decisions have to be made in large organisations.

And that’s my take on consultancy: if you’re okay with the thrust of the client’s proposals and can put forward a good case on their behalf, then everybody’s happy. But you have to be true to yourself and walk away when their objectives aren’t in harmony with your professional opinions.

Unpopular decisions

Of course, consultants come into their own when unpopular decisions have to be made in large organisations. How often do we hear about councils performing ‘a major re-structure of top jobs’ and all the savings that have been promised? It allows the council to shed staff while blaming it all on the consultancy report.

However, there’s never any mention of who will do the work of the people who leave. Neither, in all my years in this game, have I come across a consultancy report that says: “Actually your management structure is fi ne and does not need major surgery.”

Invariably the fi nancial savings promised by the consultants are always much higher than their fees for preparing their report so it’s all cost-eff ective. As a result, the new structure is accepted, redundancy notices are issued, and the consultant’s fees are paid, allowing them to clear off smartly, leaving the remaining staff to sort out any problems.


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