Friday, August 26, 2005

Jesuit of Capitalism

We learn that Natalie Ceeney, aged 34 and currently Director of Operations and Services at the British Library, has been appointed the new Chief Executive of the National Archives in succession to Sarah Tyacke and against internal competition from within TNA. She takes up her appointment on 17 October.

(SQA has flagged-up concerns about the appointment from the outset, see our previous blog A Whiff of Controversy)

Natalie Ceeney

Miss Ceeney was educated at Forest School in Ilford, Essex (Sarah Tyacke's home county), and Newnham College, Cambridge. She previously worked for McKinsey, the secretive global consultancy firm known as the Jesuits of Capitalism, specialising in the pharmaceutical and retail sectors, and before that managed clinical services in the National Health Service. She has described herself as a general manager.

She is a former Labour Party activist, indicative of the politicisation of public appointments once alien to this country.

Reactions are critical, reminding us of the response in America to the appointment of the US National Archivist there. Sir Max Hastings objects to the appointment of a management consultant while a former Keeper of the Public Records, Professor Geoffrey Martin, expresses concern about her age and management background, describing the appointment as drastic. Hastings also regrets the move away from the tradition of appointing experienced scholars and archivists. Little does he know there has never been a qualified, professional archivist at the head of the Public Record Office or National Archives, an illustration of how cynically even the intelligentsia are manipulated by the quasi-archivists employed by the civil service.

IndyMedia UK suspects Miss Ceeney's appointment represents an ideological drift in government, perceiving a tendency for McKinsey consultants and former staff to gain influence over government policy. Tellingly, according to IndyMedia UK, Lord Hanningfield, the Conservative peer, is still waiting for answers to questions he tabled a month ago about McKinsey's influence on the government. He asked how many civil servants from Downing Street are on secondment to McKinsey, and vice versa, as well as what government contracts the company holds and how much they are worth. The answers were expected a fortnight ago, but the Cabinet Office said yesterday that they had still not been completed. Asked when they were likely to be ready, a spokesman said: I am sorry, I don't know.

This raises questions about Miss Ceeney's understanding of accountability as well as her level of experience of archives.

According to IndyMedia UK Miss Eileen Shapiro, a former McKinsey consultant, questions whether McKinseyites have the capability to carry through the kind of radical policy change that Tony Blair is calling for. As consultants you are not accountable, she said. You advise on the bets but you don't place the bets. Some consultants who shift out of consultancy into a position where they actually make the bets make that transition fabulously, others don't because they don't understand the difference between advising and acting.

So where do archives come into this? Miss Ceeney apparently regards archives as part of the knowledge industry. SQA notes with concern Miss Ceeney's use of the word document in a context that is clearly not archival, in connection with the British Library’s document supply centre in Boston Spa, in an interview with Richard Poynder, freelance journalist.

We cannot comment without expressing concern at the appointment of a woman. Michael Buerk, the BBC journalist recently aroused controversy when he complained about femocracy. He has a point. The apparently automatic appointment of women, usually with a politically correct background, now seems inescapable and above all unchallengable.

We asked our own Benedict Crumplethorne to comment on Miss Ceeney's appointment.

It comes as no surprise. If we could have anticipated the outcome of the government's person specification [SQA has a copy, editor] and recruitment and selection process ourselves, we would have envisaged Miss Ceeney. She embodies everything we in SQA challenge in the world of Brtish archives. She lacks appropriate experience, she is ideologically motivated and worst of all she is not a qualified archivist.

What tickles me,
Benedict continued, is Miss Shapiro's further comments concerning stress. She says working at McKinsey is a combination of being cossetted and terribly is a very plush environment but it is also extremely stressful because it is very long hours and a very intense kind of environment. Really! Well, try working in a typical local government record office and for local government archivists' salaries!

I can tell you SQA will be having lots of fun over the next few years.

Further reading:

Underpinning the Research Community an article by Richard Poynder March, 2004 as published in Information Today

McKinsey and Co. Alumni Center [sic]

Kenny Aitchison's Blog

IndyMedia UK

Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter

The Daily Telegraph (13 August 2005)

Watching Them, Watching Us


The Daily Telegraph (22 August 2005)

Records Management Association of Australasia


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