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McKinsey's Believe it or Not

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Amidst the general dismay among real experts and ordinary people alike that has followed the parliamentary passage of Andrew Lansley's vicious legislation to traduce the NHS, there is one vested interest that will no doubt give a quiet cheer.

It is now well-established that global consultancy McKinsey&Co have been intimately involved in Lansley's plan to mangle the NHS. A Daily Mail investigation released last month made a number of significant allegations against the global uber-consultancy that is widely known as 'The Firm'.

McKinsey make lots of virtuous statements on their oh-so-slick website including the following:

"We are a values-driven organization. For us this means to always...
• Keep our client information confidential
We don't reveal sensitive information. We don't promote our own good work. We focus on making our clients successful."

But the Daily Mail asks:

"McKinsey's close ties to the Bill could prove invaluable for its private health clients. So has the firm been exploiting its privileged access? An email from an unnamed McKinsey executive from May 2010, suggests it has. ... The emails also show that McKinsey has been keen to tout the Bill's money-making opportunities to foreign firms."

Intriguing. According to the Mail, McKinsey spokesman John Cheetham repeatedly refused to comment on any aspect of the firm's involvement in work on the NHS, responding to the allegations by saying "[we] just don't talk about our client work...[what] we do for them is confidential."

The no comment was to be expected. The obsessive - if selective - secrecy of McKinsey is well known. In McKinsey's London office - located conveniently near to the Ripley's Believe it or Not museum - I've seen with my own eyes the shredders on corridor corners, and sat in a meeting room with a note on the wall that promised the destruction of every piece of paper unwittingly left behind.

The insider role of McKinsey in Lansley's attack on the NHS follows exposure of the consultancy's allegedly dodgy health care advice in the US last year. It was none other than Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugmann who led the attack on McKinsey's work. The McKinsey report in question was later described by one senior US legislator as:

"... filled with cherry-picked facts and slanted questions ... It did not provide employers with enough information for them to make honest choices and fair evaluations."

Back in 2009 - when McKinsey was urging that one in every ten NHS employees be sacked - veteran Guardian writer Michael White asked jokingly:

"Poor old McKinsey, how long can it last now that it has invoked the Curse of Nye Bevan? ... I envisage an outbreak of hospital-inquired infection sweeping through its 94 offices in 52 countries, a mysterious fire gutting its London HQ in Jermyn Street, its senior executives caught in compromising positions with choirboys and bankers."

Perhaps White was on to something because since that time, public relations debacles associated with McKinsey - of which the most damaging is undoubtedly the insider trading scandal centring on Rajat Gupta, who ran McKinsey from 1994 to 2003 and remained a senior partner until 2007, and another ex-McKinsey partner, Anil Kumar - have come with alarming regularity. None of it is good for a commercial operation which trades, above all, on the myth of its reputation.

And there lies the paradox of McKinsey's role in Lansley's NHS legislation. McKinseyites might be cheering the passage of the legislation, but if the adverse press coverage in the Daily Mail is any guide, the reputation of The Firm has been damaged in the process.

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