Tell me when we’ll pull the plug, tell me quango, quango, quango...
Ian Martin helps a flailing government gear up for cuts
Monday With workload evaporating and the profession facing a serious crisis, the RIPBA is acting decisively and swiftly. There’s to be a debate about whether it should change its name.
Of course it should. The Royal Institute for the Protection of British Architects manages to sound imperious, archaic, paranoid, parochial and boring all at once. Ideally they should start from scratch and rebadge the institute Aspire. That leaves room for a vague motto, something like ‘bring your dreams’.
Tuesday Some good Olympic news at last. The countdown clock outside Stratford station is working perfectly, and is ‘on time’.
Wednesday Conference on Designing Overseas. Summary: almost all architecture abroad is great, as apparently they’re more civilised than us. Footnote: and how lovely to escape the low grey skies of Provincial Britain. Correction: England and Wales. Scottish people are more civilised than us too, these days.
Thursday Oh, so FINALLY he gets in touch. For months I’ve been offering advice to Number 10 on how to ‘sort things out’. Only now, with Downing Street drained of all hope, am I summoned to a special meeting of OFCORS, one of the new generation of ‘think quanks’.
The think quank is very much the way forward for today’s lightweight government management system, merging as it does the cerebral power of the think tank with the gutsy implacability of the quango. OFCORS was set up under the lying shit Blair to regulate the construction, regeneration and sustainability of our towns and cities. Or rather, ‘the places and spaces we live, work, meet and leisurise in’. It has made steady progress in the last decade, if you count several expensive awareness campaigns and a 10-point plan.
Today’s agenda has a single item. We’re here to discuss the latest OFCORS report on public housing. It’s about two inches thick and is called Meeting Aspirations, Managing Options. This is no surprise to any of us. Under a new policy directive ALL reports are to share this title for the ‘forseeable future’, or what civil servants are calling The Duration.
Its conclusions are sketchy. More social housing is theoretically desirable, as long as it doesn’t upset the private housebuilders. All new homes must conform to NHS Healthy Living guidelines – no smoking, daily carbon intake limits, minimum levels of CCTV introspection, etc. And building design should wherever possible carry a faint echo of historical association. The merest hint of a slum tenement here, a deferential nod to Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon there, but with a ‘United Colours of WKD’ colour scheme, say.
Two hours of waffle takes us to lunch, which obviously makes everyone quite sleepy, so with the surly, burly PM due to make an appearance mid-afternoon, we decide to simplify the problem:
1. We have a duty to build decent public housing.
2. But there’s no money left AND we have to slash public spending.
Then we drift off to the Quiet Room for an hour to do individual thinking on the soft furniture. We’re all lost in our thoughts when the outer door bursts open. Shit, he’s early! Everyone scrambles as the PM trundles in like a bowling ball hurled in anger. ‘What is this?’ he shouts. ‘A think quank or a fucking DORMITORY? Get round that table now, I need IDEAS. And BULLET POINTS!’
We shuffle miserably into place. Then it occurs to me. Why NOT tell the truth for once? So I bang the table and start shouting about how the best way to save a fortune in the public sector is to prise off the private sector leeches who over the years have been encouraged to set up preposterous ‘consultancies’ for huge retainers, preventing the development of in-house technical services and justifying their obscene fee bills with vacuous seminars and premium-rate helpdesk support. There’s a beat, then everyone starts laughing. They think it’s a huge joke. ‘Silence!’ barks the PM. ‘He’s right. Let’s sack the lot of them and renationalise everything…’
Whoa, I must have drifted off on the beanbag. PM due in half an hour. Better think of something. Maybe if we added a layer of Key Performance Indicators to Collective Partnership Targets…
Friday Decide space is a machine for being in.
Saturday Realise that’s drivel.Make mental note to use it in a lecture.
Sunday Deploy recliner as an analytical tool to reconfigure self.