I would like to be awarded a knighthood, or something close to a knighthood, for my excellent and selfless work over the years as a journalist. Can you help me with this, and what do I need to pay?
The reply to my email arrived within ten minutes. It would cost me £3,900, plus VAT. The company concerned — Awards Intelligence — promise a bit of money back if I don’t get some sort of official recognition for my brilliance and peerless contribution to the wellbeing of society. This seems like a good deal, no? Go through the official channels — i.e. bunging money direct to some sweating party fundraiser who the party will subsequently disown — and it’ll set you back a good half a million. Who said cut out the middle man?
The email from Awards Intelligence explained that they had more experience in drafting stuff to win awards from the Queen than anyone in the world, and they could fix up referees and so on. ‘If we don’t win at least two awards for you from 12 entries, or one from eight, we’ll return your fees in full,’ it added. Another email pointed out that I was four times more likely to win the ‘recognition which you deserve’ (they’re so right about that, don’t you think?) than if I tried to fix it by myself. Their website is replete with grinning monkeys who have successfully won bunches of awards after having acquired the services of this firm.
One of the grinning monkeys is even photographed enjoying a cuddle with the poptastic Australian babe Dannii Minogue, which has got to be worth 4,000 quid of anyone’s money. You could probably get her big sister for another few thou. Because it’s not just knighthoods they can fix for you, or MBEs and stuff. Most of their energies seem to go into securing fatuous industry awards for businesses — the sort of awards which I’d always considered utterly meaningless but which, it would seem, other people take seriously. According to Awards Intelligence, they’re the sort of thing that raises your business potential and convinces potential clients that your firm is trustworthy and respectable. So, if I don’t get the knighthood, I might ask for some sort of community service award — something like ‘The Rosa Parks Award For Services to Multiculturalism’, which I can wave in the face of the Press Complaints Commission next time they get arsey.
Awards Intelligence tells you pretty much all you need to know about the utter worthlessness of the awards industry, the self-serving, sanctimonious and politically correct agglomeration of ‘benchmarks’ and ‘industry standards’ and the direct implication that all of these can be procured, along with baubles from the Queen, regardless or not of whether you are deserving or are instead a rat-faced crook who happened to have four thousand quid to spare. The company is, I would argue, as emblematic of Britain 2012 as vomit on the floor of a taxi cab, or a drought warning when half the country is submerged, or the welfare bill for a rapist we cannot deport back to the Maghreb. And sure, we all know that the dice are loaded, that the honours system is a fix and a con, a cynical, biddable process and that ‘the deal is rotten/ old black Joe’s still pickin’ cotton’ as Leonard Cohen once put it. So we shouldn’t really be surprised.
Except that it’s not just vainglorious private companies and individuals making use of Awards Intelligence. It’s also public sector institutions paying taxpayer or ratepayer’s money for the benefit of being ennobled by some meaningless award. On their front page, Awards Intelligence names Fife Council and County Durham National Health Service as grateful recipients of their services. The nice lady at Fife told me they had used the firm some years ago but couldn’t tell me how much was spent nor whether they were still doing it. She asked me to put my request for this information in writing to the council, which I have done and will tell you the result in, oh, I would guess, about November 2014.
Even more shocking, to my mind, was the NHS spending money it should have been spending on cancer treatment or false limbs on purchasing self-aggrandising rot. I rang Durham NHS but they said the woman quoted on the website no longer works there but has set up as a private consultant. They have yet to come back to me on how much money they wasted. I also rang the Department of Health and ‘government sources’ told me the following: ‘NHS money should be spent on NHS patients, not on personal PR for health bureaucrats. Patients will be furious to learn that managers are spending NHS money on trying to win vanity awards. The last Labour government was accused of trading cash for peerages. Labour advisers selling knighthoods to quangocrats is reminiscent of the worst days of Blair.’
The reference to Labour advisers is aimed at the Awards Intelligence chairman, Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate, a pensioned-off copper who was once an adviser to Jack Straw and who now sits as a Labour peer. What we don’t know, however, is how many other public sector organisations are spending large sums of money buying meaningless trinkets for themselves, and whether they are still doing it today. Nor do we know quite how much was or is being spent. Government departments spending taxpayers money attempting to win pointless government awards. All in it together, tighten your belts, etc., etc.