A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post on the radicalism of the Cabinet Office and how, in some instances, that radicalism is being slowed by ruts along Whitehall. Among its examples was “cost savings”. Here’s that section in full:
And the point of all that digital government? Openness is part of it, but there’s also the related cause of value-for-money. For instance, by publishing the
Government’s shopping receipts online, waste can be more easily spotted. And by enabling people to access public services with a keyboard and mouse, several layers of expensive bureaucracy can be done away with. Indeed, one Cabinet Office report reckons that the “greater digitisation of transactions” could save taxpayers almost £2 billion a year. But that’s not the sum total of the Cabinet Office’s drive to cut costs. In 2010, the Efficiency and Reform Group was established to help other departments find spending cuts. By the National Audit Office’s account, this group is “clearly helping departments achieve substantial reductions in annual spending” – to the tune of £5.5 billion in the last financial year.
There are very few caveats to attach to the Cabinet Office’s efficiency drive; for a low cost itself, it is achieving significant savings elsewhere. But there is a fear that it will struggle to keep up its successes in the face of firmer opposition to cuts from other departments. As one civil servant puts it, “The Spending
Review process is fraught and difficult. Cuts have become an even harder ask.”
And the reason I reheat those words now? Because today has given us very clear evidence of the Cabinet Office’s worth. Francis Maude is set to announce that, between the last general election and the end of the financial year 2012-13, the Government has saved £10 billion by implementing savings throughout the Civil Service – 25 per cent higher than the £8 billion target. As for what those savings are, the Cabinet Office has produced a handy infographic to elucidate matters. £1.7 billion has come from “better management of big projects”. £3.4 billion from “becoming a leaner, more innovative Civil Service”. And so on. Much of this has been driven by the Efficiency and Reform Group that I mentioned in my original post.
Apart from the numbers contained within it, one thing that’s striking about today’s announcement is its presentation. The work of the Cabinet Office can often sound dry and technocratic, but here it’s sold in simple, human terms. Mr Maude describes the Efficiency and Reform Group as the “taxpayers’ champions in Whitehall”. The savings, we’re told, are “equivalent to almost £600 for each working household across Britain, enough to fund three million primary school places or the building of 500 new secondary schools.” The Cabinet Office clearly wants its radicalism to show.