Britain has a productivity problem

The UK lags behind other global economies in productivity growth. Experts are baffled. I’m not.

I haven’t blogged in a while because we’ve been a little busy growing very fast. One consequence of that is that we need to move office. Not a complex task, really – we only need one floor of a building, fitted out for 20-odd people. Furniture, partitioning, broadband. How hard can this be?

Oh, really, really hard in 21st century Britain.

Let’s give the partitioning company their due. They turned up on time for the estimating appointment, sent the estimate as promised, turned up to work when they said they would, and finished on time.

In this, they were unique.

The lawyers ran a week over schedule negotiating a very straightforward lease. Why all lawyers must see a deadline as a target, and then miss it, I will never know. And why it takes five weeks to get an office lease I will also never understand. Do they agree between them to make sure the first draft is full of holes just to have something to do? I mean, this is something that has been done more than once before – you’d think they had templates that worked.

The main furniture company advertised the desking and other main furniture items as being available within 5-10 days. We ordered it all a month in advance of our move date. They specifically asked us to delay installation until a week before the move so that they could have the pedestals that go with the desks ready to install. A week before became two working days before. They did then turn up with desks. But not the pedestals that were the whole point of their requested delay, and are a structural part of the desk. And without a variety of other items they’d promised. Naturally this isn’t their fault, they say; it’s the fitters, who forgot to bring half the delivery. Every failure is met by silence, which when chased is eventually followed by excuses, on to which are layered promises of future remedy in which we place ever-decreasing faith.

But hey, we have desks. We also have meeting chairs. This is very important, as you will see.

We also need chairs. So we ordered chairs. Available, according to the supplier’s website, for next day delivery. We ordered them with three weeks to go, and specifically requested delivery three days after the order so that we’d be there to receive them. Guess what? Nothing turned up. Then the supplier told us that the factory had “misled” them about what was in stock, and offered us a different chair for delivery the following week, two working days before we were to move in. So also not next day, then, whatever their website promises. Except those chairs were also fictional. Some emails later on the supposed day of delivery the supplier told us that the original chairs were now in stock and we could have those. By this time we were arranging delivery for the last working  day before the move. The supplier swore blind that we would get the chairs. We waited all day, because of course no-one can make an actual timed appointment any more. We even had a phone call at 4pm to say the chairs would be arriving within 30-45 minutes. Imagine our surprise when 5pm rolled around, no chairs had arrived and a final phone call to the supplier elicited the response that the carrier had cancelled the job. Apparently this wasn’t their fault. It’s not clear what could have been their fault, since they also don’t make the chairs – like most office furniture providers they’re just a drop-shipper, so you’d think delivery would be the one thing they could get right. After all, their hold messaging tells us how efficient they are…

Still, we have meeting chairs that can sub for desk chairs for the time being.

And then we come to our internet connection. Apparently our chosen provider had fibre to the building and could offer us a migration of our existing connection. All good. We arrange for them to come to the building and go to meet them. Amazingly they turn up, but can’t do the job because they don’t have the parts. They don’t have the parts because their process doesn’t involve a site survey, and now they’re short of time because they didn’t allow any slack in their no-site-survey process. We agree to reschedule. Guess when their next available appointment is? Obviously the last working day before the move. This is their business-to-business operation, so naturally they run it professionally and make proper timed appointments. Ha! Of course not – some time between 08:00 and 18:00 is the best they can offer. And inevitably they don’t turn up. And of course their call centre closes at 17:30 even though their engineers may not turn up until 18:00. And then they have the nerve to call us at 17:50 to say that the engineer was never going to come in the first place because they’d failed to do the necessary prep at their end. Of course, they knew that at the start of the day, but felt we needed to spend the whole day in the office waiting in hope in order to get the full benefit of their incompetence.

I’m trying to imagine how long we’d survive if, when a client asked us to come in and talk to them about data privacy, we said that we’d be there some time between first and last thing, if we felt like it. And then turned up without the slide deck. And only told them we weren’t coming after they’d missed their train home.

Unlike all of these suppliers, we can actually do planning. So not only do we still have the use of our old offices if we need them, and complete duplication of necessary kit, we also made sure to have a backup internet connection plan. The 4G routers we bought as part of our continuity planning actually work rather well.

So we still have an office move, despite the best efforts of the UK’s service industries. The experience throughout has been of piss-poor if not non-existent planning, terrible communication, unwillingness to take responsibility combined with an immediate resort to blaming some part of their supply chain. None of them have shown any desire to go an extra mile to resolve problems entirely of their own making, and in the case of the furniture people “making” is the key word. They don’t make anything. They just act as a conduit between factories in France, Spain and Italy and independent shippers and fitters. They add precisely no value, own nothing and control nothing.

And in this environment we wonder why we have no productivity growth.

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