Sunday, July 26, 2009

Those who will rebuild.

I gravitated towards an interesting looking character at a business function in Portlaoise recently. He was about my own age and wearing a good suit and tie in the manner of a man who does a days work for a living. I joked that we had the same tailor. He replied that it looked like we also shared a barber. Common ground quickly established, economics and politics- locally- we then explored at length. Fianna Fail were hammered in Portlaoise in the Locals; the state of the local small business sector is dire; Cowen was at an opening in the town recently and spoke well, impressed many and left a feeling of optimism in his wake- what the hell is going on up in hq Fianna Fail?- Why isnt he visible, involved, spreading that feeling nationally?. I have debated these and similiar questions, over a pint or at work or at cumann meeting, many times recently.
Guards and prison officers, civil servants and teachers, these are the voters who punished the local Fianna Fail councillors in Portlaoise, Newbridge, Naas, Athy, Tullamore and of course Dublin itself. The backbone of the country and the frontline workers of our social and public sector who must now take a cut to help correct the foolish inflationary spiral driven forward by a Public Private Partnership of one dimensional trade unionists and Politicians who learnt their economics on the election canvas in Clara and Clonliffe Road. The PPP with its annual increments served Begg, OConnor et al and which now can be shown to have done its beneficiaries a disservice.
My Portlaoise small businessman had a workforce of twenty in a small engineering works which served the building trade and grew to a fleet of 5 jeeps, with often several on-site projects, and two units in a business park noisy and busy for the last eight years. The owner himself, then managing and supervising relished an expanding universe and the opportunity afforded by the climate of the time. He told me with a smile that he is now back on the machines and enjoying it again. The forty year old midriff spread will soon be shed as all bar one jeep are handed back and the office chair wont be warmed as much in future. He was stung badly by a few builders and had to let most of the lads go, as the bank took his overdraft and put it on term loan. He wont let out as much credit in future and wont take on big staff numbers again unless the serious contracts reappear.
Morale is a vague concept. Some people need it to be given to them by some equally vague concept of leadership. Morale can be high or it can be poor. The National morale is now said to be Low. Myles Na gopaleen could have some fun now with his encyclopedia of cliches- The man whose morale was Low; The Man who said we needed Leadership.
What you dont hear now though is the real truth which is that ordinary people, not Leaders, not Obamas, just workers, make their own morale. The story you need to hear now is the story of the man who took off the suit and went back on the machines, or who left the office and got back on a digger or who went from the big auctioneering firm to the dole queue to learning to write software to designing websites.
Media can say what they like about leadership until it becomes a cliche in itself. In the upper corporate world, high performing companies are often said to have a culture of self- leadership.
The generations of Irish who escaped the dreary wet deprivations of their youth and emigrated to build better lives and contribute to other societies knew self- leadership. But they would have just called it survival.
A hero of my youth, an icon of eighties Ireland, Barry McGuigan is now bizarrely choreographing a reality boxing show. Ten middle class symbols of the Ahern era including actors, Tg 4 stars, a builder, A former GAA star, a comedian, are putting aside their comfortable success after an easy expansionist Ahern decade to be trained to leanness and to fight in a ring under McGuigans mentoring. McGuigan had an innocence. The innocence of the kid who took no credit for his own greatness was typical of the Ireland before Riverdance, of the Irish who had to take their own chances with a boat or a plane, and bears no resemblance to the urbane cosmopolitan, confident irish sportsman of today who Expects.
I think this incongruous mix of nostagia and grit is no accidental metaphor. I believe the generation now reeling a little and now holding the private sector together with their fingernails were reared lean and learnt to work hard. They took all the advantages of tax breaks and a perfect expansionist economic climate to create the Celtic Tiger, a cliche to burn now on a ceremonial bonfire of the celtic Vanities. I believe that now this generation, now barely forty perhaps have the best working years of their careers still ahead of them. This generation of men like me- and the ten gobshites on TV who McGuigan is going to train- to whom Barry McGuigan was a representative icon of Irish fighting spirit in the face of social, political and economic adversity in the late eighties. A generation who will make their own morale and provide their own leadership are once again fit and ready to start at their beginnings. Ready to rebuild.

Eye of the Tiger!

Des Groome

Monday, July 20, 2009

Stand and be counted- YOUR EURO COUNTS

The flow of money into and around- and out of- the Irish economy for the last decade can be likened to the flow of liquid life aid from an out of control hydrant on a hot day. An abundance of cash overflowing, much of it wastefully, on streets awash with foreign credit. Abruptly the tap has been turned off now for about 12 months. The private sector exists on a slow drip.
The public sector, government included, have been slow to feel the drought.Perhaps they have been able to keep their own sprinklers switched on and exist in a pampered mindset, oblivious to the lack of cash flow in the new economic reality the rest of us have to do business in.
I have launched a voucher campaign to promote local shopping in Kildare town as part of my chairmanship of the chamber of commerce. It is a two sided argument; The retailer and small business is encouraged to give REAL value to consumers_ rip off Ireland is dead and gone!-
and the consumer/household shopper is asked to remember that SMEs CAN compete with big outlets in many ways , and remember that small towns need small business at their vibrant centres, small businesses that we all have a duty to support.

Groome PETVETS answer to this movement has been to reduce prices of many key services to 2005 prices- a bitch spay now reduced to 120 euro. Consult fee now down to 38 euro.
Old Age Pensioners are the back bone of our nation.
Tuesdays and Wednesdays we give ONE THIRD off all Vet services to OAPs.

Community values, local solidarity, value for money, self-help.
These are the principles on which we can rebuild our country.
The so-called boom should have been switched off and some costs controlled for the cash drought we now have . There is a feeling of loss and of waste.
The loss of prosperity will be only temporary.
Lets see what values we can refind on the journey forward again.

Des Groome.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

"Beginning to Engage"- The complacency of the mediocre.

My family have had a long dark fortnight. We knew it was coming and the outcome thank God has been a good one but an emotional numbness remains. Now that James is home from Crumlin we can sleep in our own beds, pay attention to our other children, nurse him in the comfort of our own home and gain relief from knowing that his surgery has been a succcess, a hurdle has been crossed, the spectre of fear of tragedy has passed. But it is hard to write about, and speak about, and the experience is still chest-tightening to think about, and doesnt yet feel much like relief. When JK Rowling conceived the spectre of the Dementors in her Harry Potter Saga she could have drawn on the living grief and the empty fear of parents of desperately -ill children. Parents who have no power but to hope, who are often too angry to pray. To parent a child through pain you cant control or through awful invasive heart surgery in which you must have faith is to be touched by a Dementor, to inhale the stress, to be drained flat and cold. You inhale all that into your chest and then take another deep breath to find the strength to be a parent, to make your child trust, believe and heal.
Just after James surgery when he was still in intensive care I answered an invitation from Kildare Souths conscientious TD Sean OFearghail to attend his committees grilling of Professor Drumm of the HSE. The timing was bad but I went to try to get a flavour of this man presiding over the vast and inert human pyramid we call a health service. The committee itself had called this man to make sense of why, without any political compunction, Crumlin hospital had cut back essential services, closed operating theatres, and launched a war of words with Drumm at the first hint of coercion to reduce costs. The background story we have all heard is of a 9m euro deficit which the HSE has forced Crumlin to live with in 2009. The real story however, according to Drumm, is that Crumlin over-spent by 9m in 2008 and have simply been told by the HSE not to do so in 2009 as this year "we wont have the 9million to give you". Now even to me as a parent that sounded reasonable if indeed the money wasnt all wisely spent or if good efficiencies could be found without care being compromised. OFearghail himself put it succinctly and fairly " We are asking the hospital managers to manage this hospital and find efficiencies without sacrificing front line services". OFearghail is one of the good guys. I am in agreement with him in putting it up to managers to fulfill their job descriptions and manage costs- including their own cost.
Drumm made three good points that the entire panel of cross party TDs found agreement with; He wanted Crumlin to pool their blood costs and needs with St James'; He wanted them to raise an extra 12million a year by billing their private patients more accurately; He wanted them to cut their payroll by 3% as they pay the highest rate and proportion of over-time of any hospital.
These three requests the board of Crumlin have failed to do but have cynically reacted in a war of PR with the HSE by closing a theatre and wards. On these three simple cost efficiencies Drumm is right and the board of Crumlin plainly are remiss in a city full of hospitals and full of wateful duplication of service in some areas ( for example we have 3 childrens A and E in one city ) and only 80% use of beds in some parts of Crumlin while children from Temple street hospital wait often in over-crowded adult wards.
But there are disturbing mediocrities emerging about Drumms role also; Questioned at length by OFearghail and his committee about who calls the shots-or are the HSE just observers ?.. Drumm procrastinated, prevaricated, " Crumlin havent agreed how to cut the costs" ..." I have asked Crumlin for full support for a Cross-clinic approach"..." Paediatrics needs a leader as oncology has made great strides with its new clinical leader"... On more than one occasion in the debate Drumm acknowledged difficulties in getting the hospital board to his view point but used the phrase" we are beginning to engage". How many years into Drumms job has it taken him to get the hospital boards to begin to engage...
TDs challenged Drumm about a credibility gap between what Crumlin had told O Fearghail,s committee and what Drumm was saying. He did acknowledge this credibility gap and explained the difficulties in terms that would be clear to students of organisational behaviour in any business school; Drumms hands are tied by human resource management issues, by resistance to change, by his failure to acheive involvement in his vision for the future of health care.
The answers to me are not crystal clear or neatly aligned into a strategic change management ladder towards a wonderful dynamic future for our HSE. But there are some things clear to me- Drumm is a poor communicator and lacks the courage to execute real change.
His vision - and it is also Harneys vision- is the wrong one, as why otherwise would opposition to it be so intense and widespread. His exasperation with the unions, the work practices of hospitals, his veiled criticism of boards he is only now beginning to engage with; these are the flaws of a man who is not a leader or a lateral thinker, who should be still treating patients- not trying to focus a big picture which to him plainly still remains a jigsaw in pieces.
To put one final fact to the philosophy, to put this in context. Crumlins wage bill is 74 % of its entire budget. I dont know of one business sector that could be viable with that cost ratio for labour. Childrens health care doesnt need to be compromised. Does this issue like so many others arrive back at the need for unions, for people, to be realistic about how money should be spent and what the rest of us are able to pay for.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

All Gods Creatures got a place in the Choir..

Irelands media reverberate now in july 2009 with a cacophony of political dissent. Some criticisms against our political decision-makers are justified and are constructive. The rising cries to reduce salaries of high ranking civil servants, to tax the judiciary in line with the citizenry, to reform the public sector- these voices must be heard and change must sooner happen. Dissonant notes of self-interest from unions, from banking groups, from the construction sector-those voices must be faced down in the long term interest of an equitable society. Fianna Fails leadership must face these groups and face the decisions which have to be made if necessary against groups who have even donated heavily to these same politicians. Perhaps therein lies the difficulty, but if Cowens government can deconstruct the legacy of Bertie Aherns misguided, if well meaning, social partnership annual giveaways and the contradictory Reagonomic tax regime, then this government could move Fianna Fail back to its ideological base as a centrist party of the " Plain people of Ireland". I say this as a committed member of Fianna Fail and acknowledge that the plain people of Ireland are now a sophisticated and discerning society who should be addressed as such. I also however ask this same society to acknowledge that these past Fianna Fail governments main sins were of creating a wastage culture and of giving too much. A wastage culture therefore that we all must partake in amending.

Most of our media commentators flaunt an agenda of blame. While the three horsemen of the apocolypse- MacWilliams, Hobbs and Lee- persist with an easy to be wise after the event refrain of "I told you so".
Yesterdays Irish Times ran a heart warming story of political inclusiveness. Against the dissonant choir of the day this was a simple tale of enhanced engagement in the political process. A recently elected Fine Gael Councillor from Bagenalstown had a series of clashes in public with a political rival. Councillor Bambrick has reason to agree that politics may indeed be a dog eat dog business. His political jousts with one Larry Byrne were however a horse of a different colour involving a dog of decidedly Blue Shirt allegiance. Byrne was cited in court for disturbance of Cllr Bambrick by loudly ordering his dog not to approach, but " to come away from that or you will be contaminated" . In his defence Byrne stated that he had merely warned his dog to avoid the greasy poo on the grass. I am reminded of Disraelis famous entreaty to avoid the greasy pole of politics- sage advice to man or beast.
Judge Harnett of Bagenalstown district court entered into the spirit of multi-species political inclusiveness towards the cause of mammalian suffrage by declaring that he was sure this canine was " undoubtedly a Fine Gael dog". Equally magnanimously both judge and Gardai agreed "it wouldnt be necessary to call the hound as a witness".
By way of setting legal precedent Judge Harnett ruled that second hand ( or second paw) commentary through the intermediary of a canine could not legally be construed as insult to any third party.
Presumably Byrne and Bambrick were given paws for thought as they left the court with Bambrick bound - or was it boned- to the peace for a year.