Friday, December 24, 2010

Hunkering Down...Then a Fright!

I always enjoy the end of the year. I make it a rule to stop working by 23rd at the latest and not to start again till at least the 3rd Jan. There's something about the ritual I like, the mid-winter break to refresh, refuel and go back to base.

This year's Christmas has been enhanced by the final purchase of a car, something about which, with my mild OCD tendencies, I was taking too much time and energy in the research. I located target vehicle up in Leeds so popped in after a very pleasant lunch with superblogger/Tweeter Rob Greenland. After a protracted but friendly negotiation I emerged ten grand poorer but with a three year old Ford people-carrier that down south would have cost a grand more.

With its blacked-out rear windows and 'panther black' metallic paint, it looks kind of like a bullet-proof taxi, designed perhaps for a developing world politician. But I love it - and love the fact that I didn't pay over the odds for it. Three years business and family motoring for me then I will palm it off to my missus as a the local runaround till 2020.

That out of the way, I am settling down to the peace of pastoral Suffolk. I live in a quiet village just south of Bury St Edmunds but it feels well out of the way. I can go running for ten miles round here without seeing anything except hedgerows and fields.

My peace today was disrupted a bit when my boy, Wilf, woke up with breathing difficulties. He's had a bad cough for days but this was something else. The GP's first words were "He may have pneumonia and I might need to admit him to hospital'. My face dropped. Within an hour we were on the Xray machine at the West Suffolk and wondering which of us would be doing the bedside duty on Christmas Eve. It turned out that the lad has a very nasty chest infection which could turn to pneumonia very easily but he's been given super-strength antibiotics - and sent home with us - with strict instructions to take him straight to hospital if he takes a turn for the worse. Poor little lad doesn't know what's going on - but he's comfortable and, I think, improving a little.

Couldn't fault the NHS today. We got an appointment super-quick on the electronic system run by the Swan Surgery - one of these large GP practices you get these days - and from there we got booked straight into Xray and I got a call from my GP early afternoon telling me what was happening. My wife used to babysit for our doctor when his kids were small. Bury St Edmunds is like that. People tend to stick around. This is one reason, I venture, why the place feels like it works. Had we been living in parts of London or inner city Birmingham, I doubt we'd have had such an easy time of it.

My son is feeling well enough now to be demanding my attention so its goodbye from me till...probably 2011. Thanks for reading this year. Hope it's been worth your time.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Is Nick Boles MP right to call for 'chaos' in public services?

You may or may not have caught the Cameroon outrider Nick Boles MP opining in recent days about the creative beauty of chaos within public services. What he was saying was that you need to remove most of the institutional processes involved in the planning of public services to make the vital Great Leap Forward we are all seeking.

I have some sympathy with this view, particularly since I have become a Councillor. The modus operandi of local government, and indeed the whole public sector, often resembles what I imagine Czechoslovakia was like circa 1982. Just replac iron-ore or butter with adult social care and you've pretty much got the same meeting. Lots of preoccupation with 'co-ordination', joining up' etc, not much on delivering the right service at the right time in the right way. That somehow gets lost in the mix.

So I have some time for Boles and his world-view. We do need to throw out a lot of the outdated nonsense which passes for good planning and governance. However, we also have to be bright about this. Planning is necessary. So too is Governance. We need enough grit and wagons to salt the road. If Nick Boles slips on the ice and bangs his head, we need to ensure that somebody gets to him quickly enough and takes him through the right procedures - ones he knows he will receive whether he falls over in Westminster or Walsall.

There is, whatever anybody says, a role for planning, even in the internet age. I am currently reading an amazing book about the development of management thinking in America called 'The Puritan Gift' by William and Jim Hopper. The book charts the way Puritan values of thrift, hard work, honest and, yes, good planning, gave America the management model through which it established its 20th century dominance.

By way of example, the book details the meticulous planning that went into the Puritan migrations to New England, the most successful in history up to that time and, following that, the Mormon migration to Utah. Huge efforts were taken to learn from previous failed migrations. Enormous time was taken to ensure that risks could be mitigated. Planning is not all bunkum.

What would the Puritans of the 17th century make of the situation in today's public services? Well, my guess is that they would do three things. Firstly, they would be unimpressed by the way we have separated out the delivery of things from the managing of them. In their day, the planners also had to implement and the processes were iterative. Today's leaders would be forced to actually put into practice what they espoused as operating principles.

Second, they would, I believe, like Boles, be deeply bemused by the level of activity taking place in the name of planning, co-ordination etc which actually did not serve much real purpose. Like him, they would seek to tear apart much of what passes for
necessary administration and planning.

Thirdly, however, unlike Boles, they wouldn't, I venture, be seeking to leave a vacuum into which an informal market kind of sorts things out. They wouldn't be happy with that because it forgets the important roles of both planning and leadership. You do not regenerate communities by merely stepping back. Neither do you achieve it by saying 'You do this, not us'.

My guess is that the Puritans would take a highly pragmatic view: getting rid of many of the current structures which clog up the way we are governed but, at the same time, being zealously organised in their long-term planning for the creation of a strong economy, a capable citizenry and the levels of social capital needed to sustain all of this. Not for them 'creative chaos' - just creative planning.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Is Lansley wrong to abolish PCTs?

The Observer today is full of angst about Andrew Lansley's health reforms. In short, everyone inside the NHS - managers, GPs, hospitals - seems to think that abolishing PCT's - the 'bulk-buyers' of health care for local people - and giving the task - and funds - to GPs is a risk too far. GPs, they say, want to just do their core job - not that of commissioning and procurement of services. And what will happen in areas where GPs don't take this on? At the moment, I'm working quite a bit NHS people and I hear similar things from people to whom I speak. To far, too fast, is the over-riding message.

That the NHS needs further reform isn't, in my mind seriously in doubt. To see the way things are done is to see a tangle of groups, sub-groups, mazy reporting lines all of which suck power and energy away from otherwise talented people. Throw in a tetchy operating culture, the clinician/management tension, the primary/acute divide, the special pleading from all professional quarters and the presiding overlord of the Strategic Health Authority and you've got a viscous treacle through which even a boiling hot spoon will struggle to pass.

And all of this costs a fortune to run - so I can see why the Secretary of State, like his zealous Cabinet colleagues want to just get rid of it all - PCTs, SHAs, the lot. As Andrew Rawnsley said today, they have all read their Tony Blair and want to use this term to get radical. But the question to be asked here is whether, in trying to avoid Blair's cautious approach, they risk going in the other direction - and wreaking havoc?

In the case of health, my own view is that the Coalition would have been foolish to leave the NHS to itself entirely. The problems listed above are real and hinder productivity, innovation and change. The NHS was given extra funding without being properly reformed. Yes, we saw some good come of that era - Foundation Hospitals, unprecedented capital spend and an end to some of the worst aspects of the pre-1997 system. But we were slow to diversify supply of healthcare, too worried about the reaction of the NHS establishment to devolve funding to the lowest possible point.

However, while I would be happy to abolish the Strategic Health Authorities tomorrow, I am less convinced that PCTs should go. They play an important function in many healthcare economies. When they go, their function will need to be picked up elsewhere, probably by consortia of GPs which themselves will require an organisational infrastructure. An alternative to abolition would be to reshape the Governance of PCTs to make them more GP-driven organisations.

This wouldn't be a gigantic shift. The PCTs no longer provide many services themselves. This, quite rightly, has been taken off them and given either to social enterprises, an NHS Foundation Trust or the open-market. What remains is relatively small, quite focused on locality with a history and skill-set which is useful in getting the mix of healthcare right in any given area. And unlike GPs Consortia on their own, they include the voice of patients, other professions and sectors. It is easy to forget, especially when we think about our own GP, that this group inevitably have interests which they will, almost certainly use any spending power they have to defend.

The other reason I would defend PCTs at the current time is that they do mitigate the risks incumbent in any system going through change. Payment by outcomes, Any Willing Provider and a much tighter cash environment are all big waves crashing, simultaniously, on the healthcare sector between now and 2013. Individually, each of these will have positive effects. That I do not dispute. But there will also be unintended outcomes, which will need to be managed. The PCTs - were they left in place be in a good position to help to manage the new ecology of healthcare at local level. Now that they too are in the mixer, it feels like there are no fixed institutional points around which to implement change - or manage risk.

Right across Government, similarly bold experiments are taking place in welfare, education and criminal justice. Local government is also having to reinvent itself in the face of unprecedented cuts. In all of these areas, there are huge potential gains to be made - and I applaud the Coalition for being courageous in what they are prepared to do. However, the change, in each case will need parts of the system to remain in place - rather than caught themselves in the vortex - to ensure sound implementation and to deal properly with any intended outcomes.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Are Mutuals Fit for Purpose?

Mutuals and co-ops once passed me by as an idea. The only co-ops I really knew about for a long time were vegetarian wholefood joints staffed by pony-tailed graduates and Christians. These places seemed desperately worthwhile - and very low on consumer-values such as atmosphere, service and range.

So I put co-ops into the 'nice but ineffective box' in my mind. The recent push for more mutuals has prompted me to look again at this format. To this end, I have read two superb books in the last month. One is 'Spedan's Partnenership' by Peter Cox, all about the rise of John Lewis. The other is David Erdal's book about Loch Fyne Oysters, which was taken into employee ownership following the death of one of its founders.

Both books helped to smash some of my misconceptions about employee-ownership. Firstly, these firms do not have group decision-making on all issues. Votes are not taken on which cleaning firm to use or even on many key management decisions. Expertise is respected in all areas - including management.

What's different though are three things. The first is accountability -and therefore culture. In an employee owned firm, the senior team reports back to the shareholders - who are also employees. This creates a very different dynamic inside a firm to one in which managers report to external owners. Managers are there by consent of the managed.

Secondly, employees are more involved in decision-making than in a typical firm. The culture of the all-powerful CEO is not typical to employee-owned firms - and the default position is that everyone's ideas have value.

The third is motivation. In an employee owned firm, everyone has 'skin in the game'. This creates a healthy peer-pressure to perform and deliver. There is now mounting evidence that employee-owned firms are more productive and resilient than their privately owned counterparts.

There's all sorts of info in both books about how employee ownership structures can be created, even when the firm starts out private. The most popular is for shares to be taken into a trust for employees rather than given out individually. But Loch Fyne does both, as they believe it makes ownership more tangible. Erdal's book is a touching, convincing account of how this works in practice.

What does all this mean for public services? Perhaps the strongest message I got is that for the magic of employee ownership to work, it is vital that employee ownership is as near-total as possible. Many of the mutuals setting up are only part-employee owned, the rest spread among users, other stakeholders etc. In the view of these writers, and mounting evidence from people like the Office of Public Management (itself a mutual) is that any dilution of ownership also dilutes the benefits too.

This week I attended a gathering of the 'Pathfinder' Mutuals at the Cabinet Office. All are finding their way in a public services environment in which they are, in different ways, an anomoly, often struggling to fit. These are the Early Adapters which others will watch and follow. What stands out is their determination to succeed in a tough environment. Ownership is undoubtedly part of the magic-mix which keeps these excellent people in the game, despite the odds.

All power to them.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Day at the Auction

Continuing the frugal theme one more time, I am, for the first time in years, in the market for a car. Not any car, however, a 7seater job to fit my young family and serve as a credible business car too. Giving professional colleagues lifts in my own has become a bit tricky due to the smell of damp in my Focus. Seeing an elegantly dressed consultant wince a few weeks ago on sitting down next to me, I decided that enough was enough.

The next task was to research the market. I found that by far the cheapest place to buy was the auction. You can find out what the trade pays for cars this way and, by posing as an Arthur Daley, you can pick up a nice set of wheels for a song. Armed with this knowledge - and the excellent website, I took off to Colchester last Tuesday in search of a bargain.

The auction itself was a cheerful places full of rough-hewn blokes, mostly dealers, armed with their catalogues (none of this internet bullshit) nodding up the prices of Astras and Beemers. The cars - thousands of them - sit gleaming, all buffed up like prize dogs about to go through crufts. The auction room has three 'lanes' and the cars parade through, each taking about 45 seconds to sell, an unending monologue from the auctioneer 434344444444445doIhave46464646?46?46?46?lastime?gone(hammer).

The whole operation runs with military precision, like a civilian Dunkirk, the cars driven in slowly, hazard lights on by an army of grizzled, quite elderly men. A huddle forms around each car before the bidding then, as quickly as it arrived its gone. Now my target car comes. I had set myself a budget of ten grand. They start on ten. Damn. It's proving a popular car. It goes eleven, twelve, twelve seven. A popular vehicle. I drop out before 11 grand and go home empty handed.

That's the thing with auctions, you might not win. I get back, go online and before I know it I find a dealer that has the car I want. It's up in Leeds but I'm going there next week. I figure the grand I pay extra might be worth it if I avoid another day's faffing around. Next to the Arthur Daleys I don't really feel quite up to the task anyway. No social entrepreneurs here!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Is Frugal is the new Black?

You will recall that frugality is one of my lead-values. In many ways, this is a good, virtuous thing. However it does occasionally get me into trouble. Last week I managed to disgrace myself at my London club (£170 pa - bargain), leading to a potential exclusion from said establishment.

It all started very innocently. I had been running back to back all day and on my way back from the bathroom at about 2.30pm I realised I was starving. In the corner of my eye, I saw the lunch from a conference being closed up and beginning to be cleared. My eyes fixed on a glistening piece of salmon, only moments away from an encounter with a black plastic bag. So over I went, grabbed a plate and piled the stuff on.

'Excuse me?', a young, female voice sounded, in my ear. 'Are you with the Cement Mixers Convention? (not the real name). 'Errr, no' I replied, through my salmon. Stood in front of me now was this pretty 20-something, berating me about not nicking food. 'But the event's finished', I pleaded - this was going in the bin'. ' Not the point - you could have at least asked'. In this last point, she was right. So I shuffled off, humbled.

This, however, wasn't the end of it. Fifteen minutes later I was approached by the Maitre D' of the Club who reminded me of the difficult position I, as a Member had put the Club in the eyes of his client. Not content with bollocking me, the prissy 20-something had dobbed me in to the management. I offered to pay - which they accepted - and noises were made about me being asked to apologise to the committee - utterly mortifying.

However, I was out last night with some of my old mates from voluntary work. We all met 15 years ago, in our mid-20s and it was the first time we'd all been in the same room for a couple of years. All of them, I was delighted to find, were becoming more frugal than me. Martin (a mathematician) only reads books from libraries while I am never off Amazon. Anna (a mental health nurse) only buys second hand or half-price clothes while I will always go for Paul Smith (if its in a sale). Fiona (a conservationist) lives on nine grand a year and I need at least four times that.

All of these people - mid 30s to early 40s - share on thing as well as their frugality: they are happy people doing what they enjoy and not worrying too much about acquiring stuff. Only one has a car or owns a house. After a delightful dinner (cost £25 for five!) we walked, or trained home. Except me, of course, who drove.

So is frugality the way to go? I think it could be - as long as you don't forget your manners!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Aren't many private business also social businesses?

We in the ‘for good’ world often get in a twist about defintions and distinctions. To accommodate this we have developed a typology of organisational types - charities at one end and co-ops at the other with CICs, social firms and 57 other varieties inbetween.

Business doesn’t bother with this nearly as much. But there are as many different types of business, in my experience, as there are types of ‘for-good’ bodies. For a start, there are small, medium and large ones. There are private and public ones. Manufacturing and services. And there are some which are, essentially, values-driven and some which are excessively profit driven.

It is this ‘grey zone’ between exclusively profit focused business and the harder-nosed end of social business that is, I believe, little understood by our sector. It is most often found in the privately owned medium sized business sector, where owners are long-term engaged and also rooted in their own communities. In such companies, there is less short-termism, no remote shareholders and a relationship with staff that means that jobs are preserved where possible. We tend to lump these businesses in with the red-claw private sector, but, in reality, trust is high, employees involved and the business views itself in the round as an employer and a contributor to the local community.

This is a type of capitalism that was once prevalent in the UK but which has been slowly eroded by harder-edged shareholder- capitalism and its endless take-overs. Small and medium-sized firms do, of course, still exist in vast numbers, particularly in our smaller cities and towns, but they are not the force they are in, say Germany, where the 'Mittelstrand', of middle-level of family-owned business with up to 250 employees is still prevalent.

For me, this socially responsible form of capitalism - local, connected, balanced is actually not a million miles from social business. While ownership is still concentrated in a few hands, the modus operandi and social benefit of these ventures - employment, training, economic stimulation - often compares favourably to the charities and social businesses operating in the same space.

Here's a question for social enterprise to think about: Is it is better to run a 20 person business, private profit-making in Merthyr Tydfil...or set up a social enterprise? You would get grants for both, true, but which would need less long-term subsidy? Which would generate and sustain most jobs? Bring most money into the local economy? Train most people? Pay most tax? I think I know the likely answer.

This isn’t to say we shouldn’t set up social businesses in places like this. We should - business might fail to tackle specific problems that a social venture wouldn’t shy from - e.g. employing disabled people - but I think the social enterprise sector should get its head around the fact that not all businesses are the same and in terms of everything except ownership, some businesses probably deliver stronger social returns to capital than certain social enterprises.

Where would you put your money?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Wonking Versus Doing

If you haven't read Tony Blair's book, then consider giving it a try. Even if you think you can't stand him, it is compelling reading. For me the most interesting bits are the passages on public services. Quite early on he felt uneasy that his Government didn't have what it took to reform public services. Labour was, in its DNA, always going to find it hard to challenge what had become a massive vested interest.

Now Blair sensed this and looked around for answers. He went to the Thinktanks, academia and experts. He found plenty of political stuff but very little, in his own words, of practical value. I was stunned by this. London is stuffed with the cleverest, most competitive and politically savvy people around. I have always assumed that, although a lot of what is produced by them is useless shit, there was always enough red meat for policy-makers to feast on.

Not so, it seems. I found Blair's comments strangely comforting. Didn't he have Matthew Taylor sitting downstairs? Geoff Mulgan down the corridor? Tony Giddens up the M11 in Cambridge? Although I have now overcome my complexes about Very Clever Metropolitan People, I kind of believed that these guys and women tended to deliver. Turns out they didn't and the poor PM of the time was left riffing through the Number 10 library for ideas. Quite a thought.

Perhaps one reason I took a small satisfaction in Blair's confession was that my own approach has always been a funny mix of dong stuff, writing about it, networking it and improving it. Speaking Up was a bit like that - try things, fail a bit, adapt and so on - or 'iterate' to use the vogue term. I was never one for sitting in a quiet room trying to come up with the answers. My hunch was that this wasn't the way social progress happened. Progress isn't mathematics, it is a much messier business.

Stepping Out is kind of the same. While there are plenty of people bashing out clever-sounding ideas about public sector reform, conjuring frameworks and pathways, you can be sure that most of them haven't set foot in a surgery or ward for a long time - except, possibly, for botox. This isn't the stuff out of which change is made. You end up, as Blair said, with a lot of fairly superficial, political short-term stuff that never really gets to the heart of things. Just expensively conceived crowd-pleasers such as all the crap 'tools' being brought out around the Big Society - itself a biddable idea, stuck in with many of the wrong kind of people working on it.

But this blog is not a simple 'Out there in the Real World' piece. Far from it. What I am trying to say is that we gain most useful knowledge about making change, and even grand-theories, from the mucky business of doing it, then theorizing it, then doing it again. However, somewhere on the road in our intellectual tradition we seem to have lost that fascination with getting stuck in. The thing we remember people like Michael Young for. These days, that is for the Boring Folk (possibly like me!) to do once the Clever Ones have done their work. Bland implementation versus Grand Policy.

"Oh but what about NESTA, Carnegie, RSA, Young, other 'Do-Tanks'?" I hear some of you shout. Well, yes, these lot are more engaged and doing some fascinating work that we can learn from. This is 2010 not 1998, when Blair was feeling adrift. Thank Goodness for them indeed.

But I am pretty confident that in 50 years time, the stuff that is seen as the key to change won't be the outputs of 'Do-Tanks' but other stuff, quite outside this world. Things that have grown, in the first instance, out of experience of people close to the issues and for whom getting the policy right is far from the first concern, when pushed. Change starts with action not policy. In the 2010s, new policy ideas, like new pop tunes are rare. There will never be another Beveridge just like there will never be another Beatles. The big set-pieces have been done. These days, policy can only underpin what's good out there - and give it a wider framework. This is what we seem, along the way, to have forgotten.

Friday, December 3, 2010

My Fantasy Stash of Sardines

There can't have been many people in England tonight out running in subzero listening to the Style Council. Not even two maybe! This cold weather has a funny effect on me. It sets off that wiring in me that makes blokes my age turn off lights, eat leftovers and make weird fantasy-plans for an underground pantry stashed full of tins of sardines, beans and water - just in case the worst happens - and we run out of food.

Yes, middle age sort of creeps up on you. Things which were mild tendencies are now becoming more extreme. My frugality now causes me slight embarrassment, as I take the leftover fruit from the awayday or shake every last drop from the nozzle. My desire for my own time and space now manifests itself in fairly adept attempts to avoid anything other than the most desired social gathering. I often monetize the value of what I would exchange to avoid things I cannot stand. Most weddings. Concerts. Clubs. Most lectures. Anything after 10pm.

It also makes me much more choosy about who I spend time with. There was a time when I would tolerate most people socially. Try to get on with them. Now, outside the professional setting, I only bother with people I actually like. Even at work, I strongly err to work with people who share my outlook and are interesting to be around. Never again will I sit in toxic relationships for years, as I did a couple of times while a CEO.

It's the old truism I guess that as time goes on, you realise its finity - and take the appropriate steps. Wisdom perhaps. But the grouchiness, the frugality, the hoarding, the 15 year old banger you won't replace, even if it makes you look poor? The
se are the less attractive and fathomable elements of the early-middle years. My wife find it all slightly ridiculous. But she's 35.
Too young to understand!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

To Grow or Not?

Bit of a week. The new business is taking off - relief. Worries of feeding my children on spam fritters after Christmas now abating. I'm in that funny stage now in the early life of a business where you're deeply involved in fulfilment - but just getting to the stage where it's getting a bit too much to do this well while also doing biz-dev work and the full range of necessaries - such as invoicing customers!

It's at this point I can see why people stay one-man-bands: you can earn well, control the work, really live your values. The step to involve others, be these associates or employees - is a major one. The only way to make it work, I am finding, is to identify people with very similar values to my own. So far, this has been ok. My network is a deep well and every time the bucket has been plunged, someone wonderful has been in it as it comes up, normally a freelancer (I have no staff as yet). But my well is finite and, at some stage, there's a scary decision to make - do I bore a new hole in unknown territory - with all the risks of a dry hole - or dodgy water - or stay at a size of business that is me plus my extended family of fellow-feelers?

I met Todd Hannula recently of Camberwell, a great business up in Leeds. They redevelop old or disused space into community use. I spent 15 minutes talking to Todd but, in just 900 seconds, he kind of convinced me seriously consider building a business which isn't necessarily the biggest, most investable or scaleable but which is, in its own way, a Small Giant. This term comes from a book of that name and refers to businesses which measure their success on the quality of relationships with customers, the extent to which the business corresponds to the owners' values and the quality and innovation of products and services. Not with growth metrics or market share.

Todd's story was one from which he had gone from an ambition to grow a big business - and got very quickly to a million turnover - but found fairly quickly that this was causing limitations and forcing him and his co-owners to feel less happy than they did about the work of the company. So he changed focus - and Camberwell is now aspiring to be a Small Giant: respected, loved, influential, a happy place, socially responsible, balanced.

After speaking with Todd, I reflected on my own approach - and how I am possibly representative of a slightly earlier stage of thinking about business. With Speaking Up (now VoiceAbility) I was all about impact through scale. My logic was that I would increase our impact by the vector of our growth. One one level I was right. But on another, it wasn't so straightforward. Impact didn't grow in proportion with spend. We struggled, after a while, to innovate as easily. More and more had to be spent on creating conditions in which employees thrived. It happened less and less naturally as the organisation grew bigger. More variation appeared in our services. Things still felt good - but not quite the same.

Don't get me wrong - I regret nothing and am proud of what I did at Speaking Up. But I think what was achieved reflected a mindset that is now being challenged - by people like Todd and the Small Giants of the book of that name. Ideas of value are being expressed which suggest that long-term success comes through slower growth and less of a focus on profit, more on people, culture and values. The near-collapse of certain titans of growth and profit centred capitalism certainly makes one question these models.

Like all people, I am a product of my environment and my mentors. I was given immense support by people who taught me how to successfully grow my organisation. I have drunk their milk and thrived on it. Looking at other ways to succeed has, though, been exciting - and challenging as I consider what to do with new company, Stepping Out.

The choice as I see it is whether to grow it substantially, take on people and finance, ride the tiger of public sector outsourcing and possibly sell the business in a few years - something I know I could do - or to try a different model. Probably smaller, probably employing a tiny number of people and largely working through a growing network of excellent people. Building a reputation for strong values and keeping the focus on delighting customers rather than growing revenues.

Put like this, it seems a no-brainer. However, there is still that visceral part of me that is attracted to the growth model. Which wins will remain to be seen.