Steffan Aquarone

Steff is a film producer and technology entrepreneur who speaks internationally on innovation, entrepreneurship and digital marketing

Philip Green and Andrew Marr: two professionals at the very top of their game. But both of them make for poor critics.

Philip Green is a retail magnate; retail is one of the simplest industries out there. So why was he given the task of assessing the government’s spending efficiencies?

Now, I thought, don’t be like one of those bloggers who Andrew Marr so vilifies. Even though you think he’s probably 80% right.

So I read the report in full, and in truth I’ve read press releases that have had more substance.

Sketchy at best, The Sir Philip Green Review sounds like it’s been written for press soundbites and nothing else. If its constitution of bullet points was genuinely shocking that would be different, but in summary the report (the cost of which was undisclosed):

– Found a successful project to reduce energy costs had already yielded a 500m annual saving. Surely whoever ran this would have made a better investigator than a celebrity slasher?

– Observed that Her Majesty’s government achieves, in my opinion an impressive cost-per-night of between £77 and £117 for central London hotel rooms…

– …But that they could do better in pricing of office paper and printer cartridges

– Ok, so they have wasted a shocking and irredeemable amount of money at the hands of opportunistic, greasy IT contract salesmen

But: what was worrying was Sir Philip’s apparent lack of real-world appreciation for any sort of business or organisation whose operations are more complex than “buy it, mark it up, flog it”, with alarm bells that included:

– His total misunderstanding of the fact that comparing the price of leaflets is meaningless. My seven years of experience of government communications tenders makes me confident in saying it is one of the most closely tendered items in the creative industries and that leaflet ‘production’ isn’t just about printing costs.

– An apparent lack of understanding that different laptops have different specifications and, therefore, prices

– Seeing the fact that the government has only 68 contracts for 105,000 mobile phones as inefficient

– Placing no price on either the suggestion that “all transactions [including personal expenses] should require authorisation” or the cost of running central procurement for all this stuff.

Maybe there is a more detailed answer to this hidden beneath the report – but just like a low-grade maths student, he failed to show his working out. Maybe amongst his directorships there’s an IT procurement consultancy somewhere…

Government accountability should, in the absence of really pithy criticism on efficiency be about impact. And I’ve seen my share of pointless, money-wasting government schemes run by incompetents over the years. Their impact should be judged on their competency though, not whether they’re buying paper at a sensible price and in this respect this particularly bluntly-chosen part of the spending review completely misses the point.

So: I have been fairly direct and personal, albeit properly read. And so to angry bloggers writing of an evening, and back to Andrew Marr. I’ll let you spot for yourselves on which page the comparisons to Nazi Germany start in the Great British Public’s (so far, 123) comments on Sky News start:

Happy shopping!

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