What was a management consultant doing with thousands of prisoners’ records?

There will be a few management consultants working on government projects thinking, “There but for the grace of God” this morning. Earlier this week, someone from PA Consulting apparently lost a memory stick containing the names, addresses and dates of birth of 33,000 criminals.  

This raises a number of questions, one of which must be why the hell a consultant from a private company was carrying this sort of information around on a memory stick in the fist place.

According to the Telegraph:

A Home Office spokesman said that the memory stick had been lost by PA Consulting, a private company they employed to track and analyse serious and prolific offenders in the “JTrack” programme. The Home Office sent the personal details on the criminals to the company on a secure encrypted email, which was then transferred in an unencrypted form on to the memory stick, which was then lost.

What? Does the Home Office really employ PA Consulting to track offenders?

Last September, the Home Office’s JTrack newsletter  reported that PA had won the contract to develop and maintain the JTrack system. Other Home Office websites refer to PA’s role in developing the system. That’s fair enough. That’s what the big consultancies are good at. But that is completely different from actually doing the tracking of offenders.

Increasingly, though, the public sector is blurring the line between external support and hands-on implementation. Consultants, especially those at the more junior levels, often start off with a specific brief to work on a clear fixed-term project but, over time, end up acting in day-to-day line roles, carrying out tasks which would normally be done by civil servants. Friends of mine have spent months,  and sometimes more than two years, working on government projects in which the scope changed and their roles gradually became indistinguishable from those of the civil servants with whom they shared an office. As one of them explained to me, “The department is using us as Higher Executive Officers.”

This anecdote, recounted by a friend in the public sector, is illuminating. In the department where she was working, the director called his senoir managers in and told them that there was to be a moratorium on using consultants. All consultants currently working in the organisation were to leave at the end of their current contracts and no more were to be taken on.

The managers looked at each other aghast. Eventually, one woman broke the stunned silence and said what everyone else was thinking, “Oh God! If we get rid of all the consultants we’ll have to rely on our permanent staff.”

I can’t imagine what a consultant from PA was doing with all that personal data. You don’t need that sort of information if you are simply maintaining and developing the system. Any transfer of data between Home Office systems should not require memory sticks or even emailed files.

I suspect that this is another example of the scope-creep that I described above. It would not surprise me if, over the last year or so, the consultants have moved from providing advice and systems support to doing some of the Home Office’s day-to-day work.

As long as government departments use consultants to paper over the cracks in their organisations, problems like this will occur over and over again.

About these ads
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to What was a management consultant doing with thousands of prisoners’ records?

  1. Anonymous says:

    It’s very true that many government departments rely on long-term “transformation” consulting contracts to run the business-as-usual. More to the point, this happens across the private sector on an even larger (albeit less often reported) scale. It is a sad indictment on the quality of management when this happens – there simply is no commercially sound case for resourcing a business on this basis.

    The exception to this is where the contract has been set up with a clear view to providing a hybrid on-call contracting/on-site outsourcing solution. Sadly, it is still rare for this to happen – the risk sharing mechanims and incentive structures are not mature enough, the customers are not well-educated enough, and the contractors are not brave enough.

    One upside of an economic downturn? The increased opportunity for new approaches and “disruptive organisational technologies” to succeed [apologies for the mangled jargon, I'm a management consultant - I can't help it :-)].

  2. CherryPie says:

    Lets hope there is a public enquiry into it!

  3. Gallimaufry says:

    Is it true that PA Consulting were in charge of training for several Olympic relay teams? Oops, butterfingers!

  4. Pingback: Bookmarks about Records

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s