I sit and wonder whether Egan’s theory of partnering “twice as much for half the price” will ever be as famous as Einstein’s formula for the relationship between mass and energy, E=mc2. Partnering is the new “in thing” and at least 50% of local authorities are attempting to do it. They don’t know what it means, but it opens the doors to extra government finance, so it must be good. But what else is in it for them?
Partnering is like employing direct labour, with exactly the same advantages and disadvantages but slightly more sophisticated. In 1965, Harold Wilson’s Labour government ruined the building industry at a stroke. It introduced the selective employment tax, which was intended to encourage manufacturing. The average wage then was £12 per week and the SET was 25 shillings per man, or about 10% of their wages. All building companies were advised to tell their operatives to go self-employed, which most did, and we are still suffering from the after-effects. One of the main effects of the tax was that nobody took responsibility for apprentices and training anymore, which has resulted in today’s desperate skill shortages.
Partnering is probably a good idea in theory, but in practice it is six men in suits – at least one of whom will be a project manager – managing four contract managers who are managing two trades foremen who are supervising one multitrade workman and a trainee. The competence or incompetence of the above team is not in question. All men may be equal in political theory, but not in the building trade. In our industry it is more a case of too many cooks spoil the broth.
In conclusion, having written this letter, I do not know whether I have done a Gerald Ratner or saved thousands of lives, like the little Dutch boy with this finger in the dyke. Or have I simply brought it to people’s attention that the emperor is not wearing any clothes?