The revelations this week at Barclays represent the latest peak of a range of mountainous scandals in the banking industry. Each time, we think that all the worst excesses have been revealed, whereupon the clouds part to reveal yet another mountain. The final summit may as yet be hidden. What relevance has this to our industry, one might ask, other than the fact that many of our client base are bankers? There are few parallels. Perhaps the only one is that we, like bankers, operate in an area where the degree of specialist knowledge and skill required means that many aspects of it are beyond most people. But given the specialisation of modern life, that could be argued for most fields – getting your car fixed for example. Well actually, that is quite a good example. There are many reports of malpractice with unscrupulous garages. We have to trust them, we have little way of knowing whether they are taking advantage of us or not. What is more worrying about the Barclays (and other banks) scandals is the sheer scale at which the company culture has resulted in a failure to deliver in the customers’ interests.
These things do not happen by accident. Of course, all acts within an organisation are based on decisions taken by people, many by individuals and these individuals must take responsibility for their actions. But it goes further than this. How individuals behave in organisations depends on the prevailing culture, on what seems to be ‘acceptable’ behaviour. If the directors of a business are regularly seen to have their ‘hands in the till’, then employees will also consider it acceptable to partake in petty fraud and dishonesty. If managers place huge importance on hitting targets and say things like ‘I don’t care how you get there’ then they are sending the message that targets are more important than customers, and damage to customer interest is inevitable.
Many landscape practices and contracting firms are small businesses where the behavioural tone set by the leader/s of the business will have a disproportionate effect on the organisational culture. In the long run, it is pretty obvious that honesty will lead to higher profit levels, that the ‘quick buck’ may be tempting, but the slow bucks will be more numerous. Despite this, there is still a great deal of short-sighted dishonesty in our industry. Business owners treating their firms like an extension of their personal spending, over-charging customers where they can get away with it and bad-mouthing the competition whenever the opportunity arises are just some examples. There are also many cases of opaque charging – commission payments are commonplace. In a post a few months ago called ‘Should garden designers take commission payments’ (http://www.bowleswyer.co.uk/blog/?p=197), this topic released a flood of comments on LinkedIn, all of them condemning the practice, which would make you think it no longer happens. I know for a fact it is still widespread. this raises a further interesting point. The issue of ethics and culture goes beyond single businesses into the relationships between businesses. In that way it affects all of us, even sole traders.
The same applies in our dealings with clients. We are often a little in awe of them, particualrly if they are rich and famous. We can get nervous when being questioned about our choices. I was listening to that former political bruiser John Reid on the radio this morning talking about what to do when wrong-footed in an interview. “If in doubt, tell the truth. If you’ve changed your mind, say you changed your mind. If you don’t know, say so. If you’ve made a mistake, admit it. If you do that, then you can move on to what you want to talk about.” Good advice indeed.
So after a few months of worry about how we will manage without that lovely new power washer or multifunction trigger hose, we can dust them down and once again unleash our favourite garden toys, standing proud over our domain as we spray our delicate plants with gay abandon and jet wash anything and everything in sight! Hose pipe ban? What hose pipe ban? After all we have had a deluge of rain haven’t we! Buckets of it and those poor campers in Wales will vouch for that! And whilst the rain was obviously welcome for a while, even in the landscape industry we are now praying for dry weather again so we can get on with some meaningful work!
We have been told by the water companies that the reservoirs are at nearly 75% capacity, the norm for this time of year. So all can be forgotten for now and we can carry on as normal! This is despite the fact that ground water resources that these very companies are so heavily dependent on remain significantly or even severely depleted, putting increasing strain on the UK’s water supply!
Surely the sensible thing would be to actually maintain the ban until we reach 90-100% capacity in reservoirs and ground resources have had more time to recover, that way if the rain does actually stop for long periods again at least we will have better reserves to cope when drought sets in again.
You may wonder why I take this stance, especially being from a landscape industry that benefits from using hoses. The thing is I do actually believe there should be special dispensation from the water companies for the landscape industry, especially as we contribute so much to the economy and educate whenever we can on sensible water usage, it seems odd to me that car washers are held in higher asteem and given special privileges by the water companies! This aside my main point is that it seems half hearted to to impose a ban on the general public and then lift it so soon following a relatively short spell of rain, albeit one that has seemed constant at times. This simply adds fuel to the fire for those against the ban and weakens its status when imposed again.
Water shortage has and will continue to become a major issue in this country over the coming years and we should all be doing more to prepare, conserve and re-use as much water as possible while we have it. Why not do this when supplies of water are high rather than wait until it is all gone again and panic! See B&W earlier blog http://www.bowleswyer.co.uk/blog/?p=466 when the hose pipe ban was originally announced for helpful tips on how to use water efficiently.
If we prepare in the good times we can benefit in the bad. If we are forced into using more water butts, installing drip irrigation systems, recycling grey water and walking back and forward with a watering can more often then so be it! Like many things in our consumerist society we have taken water supply for granted for a long time and abused it. It is time to buck this trend and the government and water companies should be leading the way in persuading us to change.
An interesting article in the Guardian Newspaper last week stated that The Institution of Civil Engineers is calling on ministers to introduce compulsory water meters with differential pricing. This essentially means some water would be provided cheaply but we would have to pay much more for anything above that amount. We may well bemoan the fact that prices will go up but at the end of the day money talks and will force many of us to take notice and be more prudent with water usage. Whether this would impact the wealthy in the same way as the less affluent remains to be seen but it at least draws a line in the sand ready for other legislation to follow on.