Yes, the government reshuffle is the big news today, but I was more intrigued by the fact that George Osborne has a group of young advisors, one of whom is in their twenties. In their twenties?
Now I don’t know the man so there is nothing personal here. I am sure he is very bright and very hardworking, just as I am sure that, if he keeps his nose clean, in five years time the safe Tory seat of Dunny-on-the-Wold will mysteriously become vacant and he will end up in the Commons. But seriously, 23 years old and advising the second most powerful man in Government during one of the worst periods of economic crisis on record?
At 23, I’d just resigned from my first full-time job, much to the annoyance of the kindly south-west England accountancy firm who had taken me on and were paying for my training. I’d failed an exam, and not just any exam. I’d failed the graduate conversion, the relatively easy one that is supposed to set you up for the real work to follow. But at 23 I wanted to live a bit and frankly counting drill bits on an industrial estate outside Exeter didn’t really do it for me.
So why did I try to become an accountant? Well, twenty years ago graduate jobs were hard to come by and taking this one also meant I could live at home (plus ça change, eh?). But it did teach me a few things. Firstly that accountants are a breed apart, and secondly that I am not one of them. But looking back, the odd snippets of what I learnt then have been helpful when I’ve had to deal with accountants again (if they find something nasty just look thoughtfully into the middle distance and say “Yes, but is it material?” – which should buy you a few minutes or at least a bit of help in solving the problem.)
So mistakes are useful, and let’s face it we’ve all made them. From the minor “I’ll ignore that rattle, it’ll go away” to the more serious “he/she/they won’t find out, will they?”, mistakes are a vital way to learn about life, move on and hopefully not make the same mistake again. The real problem with Government and indeed many organisations, is that making mistakes is seen as a weakness – to be pounced on by Janet from Procurement or the Shadow Minister for Pointing Out the Obvious. But if you’re afraid to make mistakes you’re afraid to do anything other than what has been done before. Even if that was wrong too.
I’m proud to say I’m still making mistakes, though hopefully they are smaller than before ones (I won’t be buying a used Ford Orion again) or at least new ones. And this would be the real value of older people directly advising in Government – they’ve made the mistakes and seen the consequences, and made and seen more of them than someone in their 20s can appreciate. For example, it would have been really useful if someone had stuck their hand up during the discussions on the last Budget and said “Er, about this granny tax?” . . .
So, George Osborne, don’t ditch the twenty-something BYTs because that’s where the innovation and fresh eyes will come from. But let’s also have a few over-60s as Government advisors to bring a bit of perspective and expertise in avoiding mistakes. In fact there’s a really experienced, recently made redundant 72-year-old who might just fit the bill . . .