For all Francis Maude's ultra-modernising views, his Conservative roots run very deep: after all, his father, Angus Maude, was Margaret Thatcher's Paymaster-General and co-author, with Enoch Powell, of Biography of a Nation. In his time, man who now holds the same post as his father has been a Treasury Minister, lost a seat, found another, served as Shadow Chancellor and been Party Chairman. In short, Maude is a veteran politician who could have put his feet up in office – as others have been known to do as they age – and treated his appointment as a bit of a last hurrah.
This hasn't happened. Even his critics concede that he has made "far-reaching reforms", and Maude himself points out that the civil service is now at its smallest since the Second World War. And although some of the work will doubtless have been outsourced, there's no doubt that the waste and extravagance of the Brown and Blair years is being curbed. Behind the Times's paywall today, Rachel Sylvester describes how a team of civil servants helped to drive finding £500 million of savings last year, and believes that there are big digital reductions to be made across Government – "the
Cabinet Office believes it can save 40 per cent on the cost of building
secondary schools". (Peter Hoskin has described the enthusiasm of younger civil servants for change on this site.)
She writes that "Maude talks scathingly of an “oligopoly” of large IT contractors whose time
is up". Meanwhile, the Financial Times claims that "taxpayers will be able to find out at the click of a mouse how much central government is spending on many services". It's true that Maude's successes in civil service have to date been the easier ones to make (though even these have been strongly contested): fixed-term contracts in future for Permanent Secretaries, stronger private offices for Ministers, a fast-stream training college for the civil service. He has not yet managed to change civil service appointments to make them suit the needs of government rather than the natural wish of civil servants to develop their own careers.
What he has done to date, however, shows that his Tory instinct for making big savings is undiminished, and that his energies are undimmed. The Cabinet Office Minister would like to go further. He believes that there's much more to be done to ensure that government spending is carried out efficiently. In our system, the Treasury is responsible for controlling expenditure. But the way it works is to negotiate budgets with departments, rather than seek to ensure that the money is spent effectively.
It would obviously be a bad thing were the Treasury to seek to micro-manage departments. None the less, some of those close to Maude believe that a new budget and finance office based in the Treasury could avoid that trap. Some of work of this new facility would be carried over from the Cabinet Office. Its remit would be to hunt for more savings in departments and find taxpayer value for money – with the authority that only the Treasury can carry. George Osborne should take a look.