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Parkinson’s other law strikes again

Most of us are familiar with Parkinson’s Law, the one that says that work expands to fill the time available for its completion.

However, a TV news report last night, discussing one of the recent travails of Britain’s Home Office in front of its recently constructed and newly occupied headquarters reminded me of another Parkinson’s Law – same Parkinson but different law – which says that whenever an organisation moves into a new, custom-built headquarters, it is likely to be not just heading for disaster but already there. Parkinson’s Law of Custom Built Head Offices alludes to the way that the process, first of deciding about the new building and then of getting settled into it, takes the attention of the people who matter away from the real job that they are supposed to be doing, and towards their own, as it were, domestic arrangements. They are celebrating past successes instead of contriving further success.

Contrariwise, people who are busy doing important and productive work that they are determined to press ahead with have no time to be fussing excessively about furniture and fittings, and they make do with whatever they have or can easily obtain from a catalog.

Once again, this law would appear to vindicated, and I can only apologise for not noticing this sooner. I’ve long known of this law. I often walk past the new Home Office, designed by star architect Sir Terry Farrell, on my way from my home to Free Market Think Tank Land, which is just the other side of the new Home Office from me. The Home Office’s very public difficulties in recent months have not escaped me. But the penny did not drop until last night.

The new Home Office was moved into in the Spring of 2005.

17 comments to Parkinson’s other law strikes again

  • Nick M

    I heartily agree. A tidy desk is a desk where nothing gets done. My global HQ is the front room of a terraced house in Manchester. I very much doubt Lord Rogers or Terry Farrell had much to do with it.


    Maybe so, maybe not. The big question surely is: are they doing it from a brand new custom built architect designed headquarters?

  • Nick M

    And if so, how long until Al Queda do some “remodelling” of it?

  • Did the Home Office perform any useful function – or even just do anything with competence – before it moved though?

  • The Wobbly Guy

    Regarding the article,

    If they want to cut down on the number of prison inmates, the solution is simple: make people fear going into prison and commiting crime of any sort. Flog ’em, whip ’em, cane ’em. Most people are terrified of the pain that a stout stick can inflict.

    Worse comes to worse, hang ’em. Especially murderers and other lowlife scum.

    Until human nature changes, we can never follow what idiots and fools in Amnesty propose. Even for the leftists and the soft left, I would point out that in the countries they so admire, like Cuba and the past USSR, criminal punishment was horrific.

  • ras

    “If you want something done, ask a busy person”

    BTW, custom-designing a building implies that the current way of doing things is being, literally, cast in stone. Subsequent proposals for change will be fought harder than ever.

  • ResidentAlien

    TWG – sounds like the Taliban had the right idea then?

  • simon

    I’m not sure that this second Parkinson’s Law applies to public bodies. No disaster really befalls them, they can’t go bust, they keep getting paid, careers are rarely affected, early retirement on a good pension is still available. For public bodies, Parkinson’s second law is only a disaster for the paying customers, not the organisation itself.

  • Well, it applies to Reuters.

    Rebranding is also a clear sign of being distracted by the veneer and an ego-trip by the CEO.

  • That discussion in Parkinson’s book is brilliant. From memory, it went something like this: “Genghis Khan ruled the world from the saddle, his heirs lost it bit by bit from their palace at Karakorum. The United States has not won a war since the Pentagon became its military headquarters. The Bourbons went into terminal decline soon after Versailles opened. And Luytens majestic buildings to house the Viceroyal government opened practically on the eve of the loss of British India.”

    It is very true of private businesses, as well. The pioneering years are in cruddy rented space, with too much work to do to worry about the daily delivery of fresh flowers for the main lobby. By the time the firm moves into its marble-paved palace, the excitement is gone, the growth curve has flattened, the period of stasis and decline is just around the corner.

  • John K

    Now that the Home Office has moved to its new PFI financed HQ, what is going to happen to Sir Basil Spence’s Palace of Malice at Queen Anne’s Gate?

    In my manor, Trafford Borough Council is now proposing to move to a tawdry glass palazzo on Salford Quays, which they will rename Trafford Quays for reasons of municipal pride. It then proposes to sell its handsome 1930’s Art Deco Town Hall to Lancashire County Cricket Club, to knock down. By some obscure financial osmosis, this is meant to keep Lancs at Old Trafford.

    Most councils are run by philistine jerks, and it seems Trafford is no exception. Luckily, the Thirties Society is applying to have the Town Hall listed. Something has to be done to protect decent buildings from scumbag politicians. Believe me, I know quite a bit about the pols in Trafford, and almost to a man they are krill. The sad thing is that they are one of the better councils in this country. Depressing.

  • simon

    John K, I’m a Trafford resident, but I’m unconcerned by the fate of the 30’s Town Hall, which I find dull. What I do know is that the ‘self financing’ deal between Trafford Borough Council and Lancashire County Cricket Club will turn out to be con. The new, shiny Town Hall in Salford Quays will be a drain on the public finances. When your customers have no choice but to pay up, why care?

  • John K

    I quite agree about the financing of this deal. The details have been vague to the point of insolence. But Trafford Town Hall, or Stretford Town Hall as it was until 1974, is a decent piece of 30’s municipal architecture, of a type which will never be built again. There is precious little architecture of any merit in that part of the borough. It survived the Blitz, so I rather hope it will survive this Enron-esque deal.

    The leader of the council complains that the Town Hall is 70 years old and is jolly costly to maintain. Well, the Palace of Westminster is 150 years old, but so far that has not been used as an excuse to demolish it, and I have no doubt that the PFI deal to move the Town Hall to Salford Quays will, over its life, cost the serfs a damn sight more than simply maintaining the existing building. But that’s the whole point of this thread: why should bureaucrats bother about providing services to the public when they can spunk our money away on designing new offices for themselves?

    Trafford’s previous claim to fame in this area was that they were left Longford Hall by the family of John Rylands. They proceeded to neglect it for many years, and then gave themselves permission to demolish it. As I said, krill.

    It’s a Conservative council by the way, but Labour were just as bad.

  • The Wobbly Guy

    Resident Alien – Sharia law has its perks, but the laws are fundamentally flawed in that they treat the sexes differently. Also, crippling and limb severance is just a bit too harsh. The system I support will have caning as the heaviest non-lethal penalty. What other method would you propose? 24 hour TV, a gym, and counselling?!?

    Oh yeah, counselling. Works on some people, doesn’t work on most. Some say the same of pain-associated methods, but obviusly a far smaller proportion are immune to pain.

  • Ian Richmond

    You have missed the new entrance into the government Whitehall Tunnel from Monck Street – a white windowless cube with double doors.

  • Wobbly Guy, you neglected the most powerful deterrent associated with prison life: violent homosexual rape. The guards should turn a blind eye to keep this deterrent operational.

    (Voice of Morgan Freeman:)
    The bull queers caught up with Andy DuFrain. Oh, Andy! It was a looooooong long night.
    (Shawshank Redemption)

    Of course, the lefty libbies will say that the offense in this situation is *inhospitality* and not sodomy/rape. (Teasing the theolefties about their spin on Sodom and Gomorrah.)