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The new managerialism.

HALF A CENTURY AGO, a now forgotten American book, James Burnham's The Managerial Revolution, was much discussed. Its argument was that power in industrial enterprises had shifted from the shareholders to the managers.

I have seen much less comment on another managerial revolution that we have been witnessing over the past 20 years. Readers of this journal, whether they are members of planning committees or teachers, architects or planners, engineers or foresters, hydrologists or geographers, will confirm that in the fields in which they work the most influential and best paid jobs go to people who are described as Masters of Business Administration, who, when appointed, impose a regime of squeezing out the more expensive employees--for example, very experienced teachers at the upper end of the salary scales--and the more expensive hits of the curriculum--for example, the wasteful use of space in drawing studios in architectural schools (so much more extravagant than cramming everyone into lecture rooms).

Plenty of readers in further and higher education will have stories to tell about the increasing use of part-timers or graduate students to take classes, as they are a useful way of evading the conditions of employment for full-time staff. Sooner or later, the students will realise that at the very time when they are obliged to incur a mountain of future debt to pay for their education, they are being offered a penny-pinching product.

These impressions were confirmed for me by Christmas greetings and readings. One friend was leaving a celebrated planning school, after observing "the turmoil and distress caused to dedicated staff by managerial actions like the forced mergers of departments and the compression of two-year courses into one year', while another, who had brought glory and awards to his institution, talked about his gradual withdrawal.

And the book I read over Christmas was the autobiography of the celebrated sociologist A.H. Halsey, No Discouragement (Macmillan, 1996): he remarked that the consequences of the amount of form-filling for teaching and research evaluation are 'tragic', and he added that 'A great deal is at stake here. One often hears with sadness that a new management b needed to promote efficiency and cut out waste ... I don't believe it. Management speak is management speak. Parkinson's law works for pasts independently of the character of their incumbents ...'

Another friend, with immense knowledge and experience, was driven ill by the grotesque paperwork demanded of him in his busy life as a conservation officer for a local authority. He left because he couldn't stand the hypocrisy and fantasy of mission statements and output targets demanded of him, finding this make-believe humiliating. Anyone with a friend or a spouse who is a teacher will have learned about the incredible amount of pointless form-filling that is now imposed on people in that profession.

I see this as tragic in its implications, because all my experience leads me to support the conclusion, frequently reported by industrial psychologists, that satisfaction in work is directly related to the 'span of autonomy' it offers, meaning the amount of the working day or week in which the workers are free to make their own decisions. At the beginning of my working life, my span of autonomy was minimal. But it had become virtually total by the time I ceased to be employed.

This natural progression is contradicted by the introduction of expensive external consultants peddling this year's managerial wisdom, which, as experience tells us, will be seen as obsolete next year. Think of the history of the National Health Service, which has hired one expensive management consultancy after another, to dispense its sloganised wisdom, now regarded as disastrous in terms of the hard-worked people who actually keep the Health Service operating.

For many years industrial psychologists have been showing us that what 'keeps the show on the road' through shortages and overloads is not the diagrammatic chain of command and decision-making: it is the unofficial networks that have built up through friendly co-operation and accommodation. And it is these informal relationships, closely studied over 30 years ago by the American sociologist Seymour Melman in his book Decision-Making and Productivity (Oxford, 1968) that are most at risk from the new managerialism.

Colin Ward's Cotters and Squatters: The Hidden History of Housing is available at 9.99 [pounds sterling] from Five Leaves Publications, PO Box 81, Nottingham NG5 4ER. T: 0115-969 3597. W:
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Title Annotation:People & Ideas
Author:Ward, Colin
Publication:Town and Country Planning
Date:Feb 1, 2004
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