The debate about whether things should be in public hands or private hands is always there. One side argues the bloated waste of the public model while the other side point to the importance of owning and controlling our future ourselves in private hands.
The aspect of the public model that I do disagree with is that regardless of ability or effort, employees are guaranteed their jobs. This is an unrealistic premise in the modern competitive world. But there are major drawbacks to the private model as well.
This week we see with the National Lottery what the true aims of the private sector are, (and have always been). They have raised the ticket price by 25% while also adding two extra numbers thus rendering it almost impossible to win anything. They have killed the goose that lays the golden eggs through their greed.
At some point during the nineties a new breed of accountant began to get their foot in the door of private Irish business. The traditional accountant kept an eye on cash flow, took gross margins and calculated net margins, kept an eye on costs and dealt with the bank. The accepted model was based on profit. For the new breed though, that wasn’t enough.
The new breed were arrogant and aggressive and their motto was to, “maximise profits.” This was music to the ears of the boardroom and what always annoyed me was that these new young turks somehow managed to get themselves into these boardrooms in short order. On paper, maximizing profits looked damn good for the bottom line. The new accountant breed were rewarded with promotion to positions of authority and responsibility.
What was deeply unhealthy about maximized profits was that it came with a high price for the business. The company’s flexibility to respond was costed out of it. The easy co-operation of a contented workforce was whittled down to a cost-effective but resentful compliance. The familiar comfortable interactions among staff members changed to a colder formality and the new accountant picked his little favorites to report back to him.
These maximised accountants killed the spirit of companies, the sense of belonging and they greatly affected morale as ordinary employees saw stupidity being handsomely rewarded. Worse than that though, customer goodwill changed from being a real and reliable thing we could depend on to a number on a spreadsheet. That number was incalculable but for these new accountants it was the one positive variable that could be valued at any figure they might need at any time to make themselves look good. It is no exaggeration to say that maximizing profits entails squeezing the last drop of goodwill out of any company.
I hated these guys and encountered them all over the place. They lacked integrity, had no empathy and although well looked after, they had no loyalty to their employer either. They managed to overprice and under-resource every company they infected. Their sole skill was misrepresentation. They could pull any figure out of the spreadsheet hats to suit any management request. On any given day, they could show great losses or great profits and neither number was ever accurate or even close. But it massaged the burgeoning egos upstairs.
When “An Post” set up and ran the Lottery, they did it very well. It was simple, happy and it worked. Then our lying bastard politicians sold our Public Company off to “Camelot” for a song. Only a fool didn’t know what would happen next. Camelot would be an absolute magnet for a brigade of maximising accountants. Some little shit somewhere has told the Board of Camelot that the Irish lottery buyer is a stupid gambling addict who will not only pay the extra 25% but will be too dumb to notice the two extra numbers. The clincher then is the effect of the bottom line. The bastard-accountant will demonstrate how applying his brilliant extortion will add millions to Camelot’s fortune and it is all down to the Board employing a genius like him.
When An Post ran the lottery it was just a cheap fun punt and you never knew your luck. Now it has become a private scam to mislead you into handing over a fair bit of money for nothing. To me, the intermittent bet on the Lotto was only a two euro daydream you could enjoy for a couple of hours. But with Camelot, the dream is gone. Your chances are almost nil so there’s no point any more. I hope they fail big-time and I hope that fire the accountant and I hope somehow An Post gets the whole thing back and it becomes once again what it was – an idle sweet dream in a grim reality.