’Suddenly I knew how George Osborne felt when he got his hands on the communities department payroll’
Quentin Shears, 48, is a partner in Newt UK, he recently rebranded subsidiary of US construction giant Gator Corp. While Quentin has been coming to terms with his new masters’ work culture, they have been deciding what to do with their new outpost in Austerity Britain. After a summer of intense strategising, little has been decided - except for the fact that nobody
knows what management consultancy is, and there may be a sustainable future in pest control. Now read on …
It has been a difficult fortnight for Newt’s education division. First came the news that it was going to be merged with our new pest control consultancy arm, Killer Newt (on the grounds that building new schools is now a less viable business stream than preventing existing ones from turning into plague pits). Then we found out that our one surviving project, academy@grimston, was being rebranded, as it sounded “a bit too inspiring, a bit 2007”. The project now has the working title “Grimston Child Depot”. And finally, to top it all, we got a phone call from the Department of Education saying “it would really help out” if we could trim 40% from the project’s construction costs - “Oh, and remember, we’re all in this together.”
This unfortunate state of affairs has at least given me plenty of work to do - and got me out of an intensive two-week training course at Infestationarium, Hertfordshire’s first contamination-simulation village. Instead, I spent much of the past two weeks reading the seminal work “Cutting in the Free World: Pushing Back the Boundaries of Value Engineering” by the American neoliberal school designer L Milton Leghorn, now published in the UK by libertarian thinktank Flatulus. The book posits the theory that costly and elaborately constructed learning environments actually foster a sense of complacency in the ablest students, and that the best schools motivate their charges by providing desks for only one pupil in three.
With Leghorn as my guide, I looked again at the Grimston plans, and got out a red pen. Every cost had to be justified; nothing was sacred. I began with the structure. Walls? Well, they’re fairly essential, but internally? If the school were reconfigured for more, say, flexible learning with fewer, larger teaching spaces, I worked out it could cut 3,000m2 in blockwork. I made a quick calculation - that would save £150,000! Suddenly I knew how George Osborne must have felt when he first got his hands on the communities department payroll.
Feverishly, I continued to cut. This was so much easier without any architects to get in the way. Internal glazing was another quick win - who needs light-filled classrooms anyway? A simple strip of high windows around the outer wall would also save on glass and reduce the need for mechanical cooling. Interactive whiteboards could be replaced with an earlier, simpler specification. Desks could be salvaged from old schools - it would be the sustainable thing to do. Carpet tiling - what were we thinking? Another £15,000 saved!
I worked continuously. Days merged into nights. Finally, my work was done – with the school entirely remodelled, I had reached the magical 40%. Exhausted, I slumped forwards in my chair, rested my head on Leghorn’s weighty tome and slept the sleep of the fiscally responsible.
I awoke to find my colleague Alan Quimby peering over my shoulder at the cost breakdown I had spent three frenzied days preparing. “Extraordinary,” he was muttering. “Fascinating … Quentin, where did you find this?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, the single hall-like classroom,the rows and rows of wooden desks, a single blackboard, high, narrow windows - ah, and no heating, I see. It’s a perfect recreation of a Victorian school! Is it for a film?” I looked again at my masterpiece. “My God Alan, you’re right.” I had even added bars to the windows to save on the security system. But this was beyond even the most diabolical imaginings of Hollywood. “Alan,” I croaked, aghast and at the same time ecstatic, “I think I’ve made Michael Gove’s dream come true …”
As told to Nick Jones