The Labour Party have sought to condemn cuts in grant to local councils on the grounds that the Department for Communities and Local Government has not applied the same stringency to its own operations. Labour MPs have sought to substantiate this narrative with the most forensic zeal – putting down Written Questions to the Department on all sorts of details.
The difficulty for them is that invariably the facts and figures provided in response prove the exact opposite. That show that the DCLG has been rigorous in reducing its own spending. Eric Pickles has been practising what he preaches.
The latest effort came from John Woodcock, the Labour MP for Barrow in Furness. He was wanting to sneer at the proposal to reward staff who came up with ideas for savings. This suggestion is the final item in the DCLG guidance, 50 Ways to Save.
“Your staff will be the most informed and actually the most enthusiastic about cutting waste. Give a prize for best staff ideas for efficiencies. Allow staff to submit anonymous ideas too. For example, at Surrey County Council, over 300 employee suggestions have saved approximately £500,000, including: reducing travel and meeting costs, for example using more teleconferencing; reducing print and postage costs, and reducing office equipment and stationery costs.”
The first retort would have been then why hasn’t the DCLG introduced a reward scheme for its staff. They have. Undaunted Mr Woodcock sought to expose what a failure it had been. He asked:
How many Instant Rewards of what value were given to his Department’s officials in (a) 2013 and (b) 2014 to date.
The following response came from Kris Hopkins, the Local Government Minister:
“The Department has reduced staffing costs from £218 million a year in 2009-10 to £95 million in 2013-14. We have also completely overhauled and reformed the system of bonuses, in turn, reducing spending from £1.3 million in financial year 2008-09 and £1.2 million in financial year 2009-10 (£1.0 million in performance year 2009-10) to £440,000 in performance year 2013-14.
“For staff who are not Senior Civil Service, this included replacing the Annual Performance Bonus Scheme and the in-year Special Bonus Scheme, with an Exceptional Performance Scheme and in-year Instant Voucher Reward Scheme. The latter is designed to enable managers to provide immediate acknowledgment of exceptional performance for smaller scale achievements over a short period of time. Vouchers are given in values of £10 to £50.
The types of work that may qualify for a nomination include:
identifying and taking actions that results in cost savings and efficiencies; stepping in to support colleagues at short notice to deliver business goals; delivering high quality work ahead of agreed timescales; exceeding the expectations of colleagues or customers; displaying exemplary behaviour which reflects DCLG’s values; receiving outstanding feedback from colleagues or external customers.
From the scheme’s launch in June 2013 to December 2013, 360 staff received a reward with an average payment of £34. From January 2014 to September 2014, 285 staff received a reward with an average payment of £30.
I am unsure of whether the hon. Member wishes to disparage such small-scale bonuses because they may involve giving out shopping vouchers, yet we believe that they are a cost-effective way of improving staff performance within Whitehall and delivering a better service to the public.
Indeed, the vouchers given for saving taxpayers’ money have delivered at least £40,000 of quantifiable savings and further efficiency improvements on top. Under the Labour Government, the state congratulated those that regulated more, spent more and taxed more. We want to reward those who regulate less, spend less and tax less.
I would hope the hon. Member, as a Co-operative Party MP, supports the underlying principles of staff involvement, economic participation and self-improvement which we are embracing.”
Keep digging, Mr Woodcock.