Service companies: when does lobbying become corruption?

Alastair Aitken 27 August 2013 0

Having lived in a country where seemingly blatant corruption is accepted as part of doing business, I used to perceive Anglo-Saxon countries as notionally being above that kind of thing. A native friend pointed out the error of my belief: if a company spends an awful lot of money lobbying to change laws to make previously illegal practices legal and favourable to their business then the net result is no different to simply handing over money to ensure that a business is not troubled by existing laws. It’s not necessary for money to change hands: isn’t the implicit promise of a future job to today’s decision-maker merely corruption by another name?

Service companies, you know the ones I mean: they’ve got their fingers in many pies. They lobby governments extensively for changes to legal frameworks to enable their business. They don’t like paying taxes but perversely they do like taking lucrative government contracts – ideally without having to take part in a competitive tender process and with negligible public oversight dressed up as commercial confidentiality.

It seems amazing that many organisations still view IT as an area where cost savings can always be made rather than operating as an integral part of an organisation. This strategic view of IT has made it ideally suited for service companies to get their collective foot in the door.

My firsthand experience of the work performed by one massive IT service company was depressing: the codebase was one of the worst I’ve experienced, which could be primarily assigned to the fact that it was authored by new graduates operating with the minimum of oversight from line managers who were barely qualified to perform the task. That’s a very cheap way to deliver services but unsurprisingly that cost saving was not passed on to the client.

I’ve also witnessed the absurdity of a US service company flying in its own staff, many of whom originated from the UK, to the UK to work on a UK government contract. The staff had their wages (and living expenses of just under one thousand pounds per week each) paid via an umbrella company to avoid paying UK taxes. Clearly cost saving was never a consideration when that bog-standard website contract was awarded.

Conversely I’ve had experience of bringing in workers from outside the EU purely as a cost-saving measure. This was for a highly profitable organisation that subsequently had to be bailed out by the state. Said organisation had lobbied extensively to relax restrictions on issuing visas for skilled workers but those visas were supposed to be issued purely where there was a skilled worker shortage, which there certainly wasn’t as the current skilled workers were being thrown back into the available skilled workers pool.

It’s small wonder that I know former colleagues who have left IT, never to return. The variety of differing career paths that these gifted ex-colleagues have taken speaks volumes of their despair at the political status that IT has within large organisations: gardener, teacher, decorator, car mechanic, mini-cab driver. Each professes not to miss the constant stress of expecting their job to be outsourced at short notice. If there is a skills shortage then it’s because people are being forced out of their chosen careers to satisfy the profit demands of the unsatisfiable.

Corruption. Cronyism. Nepotism. Bribery. Kleptocracy. Plutocracy. Call it what you will but, like the proximity of rats, it’s always closer than you’d like it to be.

Alastair Aitken (124 Posts)

As a contract developer and manager I’ve worked in a wide range of enterprises in a variety of countries where I’ve encountered everything from great work, awful work, bizarre work, all the way down to quasi-legal work. If you think that you recognise your own organisation within my articles then you’re undoubtedly wrong, where you work isn’t that unique.

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