I’ve already told you how I made my way over the hills and down into the dales on my way to Forest in Teesdale. The other place that I visited during April that I had never been to before was the National Savings and Investment building. For anyone who has ever been to Durham it will be remembered as that building on the other side of the Milburngate Bridge where you can get your passport renewed if you’ve left it too late for the last minute holiday you booked without thinking it through properly. Of course if you have come into Durham by train then it is that building this side of the Milburngate Bridge.
It’s a building from a different era, totally not in keeping with the majestic splendour of the castle, the cathedral or the town square. Milburngate House will never be up there as one of Britain’s favourite edifices.
It is from the time when the planners thought that people would live in the sky, with walkways high above the traffic and who thought that concrete would always be beautiful. How times have changed. The brave new world has come and gone. Brutalism is a fad that has seen its day and most of its creations are now sorry landfill. People don’t live in the sky, instead we sit at home and watch it.
The purpose of my visit was not architectural. I had been at a conference in London at the end of last year and was collared by one of the major outsourcing companies. I am not a natural advocate of that style of operation but his friendly face persuaded me that they had a significant business up in the city and that I should come down and at least have a look at what they are doing. I succumbed to his charms. After all I hadn’t spoken to another living soul all day. He was my Man Friday.
Diary pressures meant it was several months before the visit got arranged. So what have I learnt from my short walk down the hill from County Hall?:
Firstly, the building on the inside looks worse than form the outside. This isn’t helped by the fact that everyone was moving out in a month or so and some areas had that Marie Celeste feeling. I think it may be due for demolition. With a mixture of dark wood panelling and magnolia emulsion every floor looked the same. So much so that even our hosts got confused over which one we were on.
Secondly, central government functions are struggling with the same issues that we are in local government, especially around process flow, cost reduction and focussing on the needs of the customer.
Thirdly, we have some way to go to wean ourselves off our addiction to paper. We talk about digital by default yet much of what we do still requires the application of pen and paper, especially when proof is required in the process.
Fourthly, some managers see visitors as a threat while others see them as an opportunity.
The visit was well worth while overall and we agreed some areas to look at in the future.