What proportion of the spending scaleback this year do you think will be achieved by Francis Maude’s efficiency reforms? A tenth? A fifteenth? Less than that? I will go first. My guess would have been between a tenth and a twentieth, probably somewhere in the middle of that range.
In fact, the Cabinet Office claims it is on track to save £20 billion through efficiency and reform this year out of a spending consolidation of £82 billion. Now, savings from Maude’s programme are measured in different ways. For example, the Treasury does not automatically count those from the sale of a public building as a spending reduction.
None the less, the headline figures tell a story that should be more widely known: in this financial year, Maude will actually be responsible for about a quarter of the scaleback. (George Osborne has not succeeded in eliminating the structural deficit during this Parliament but, as Andrew Gimson has pointed out on this site, he is delivering his planned consolidation, of which Maude’s efficiency and reform programme is a part.)
ConservativeHome has long argued that the ring-fencing of the NHS budget and the triple lock on pensions, while other public spending is not so protected, is ultimately unsustainable – and an affront to social justice for younger people in particular. That’s why we have recommended an Affordability Commission.
However, the more that is saved by closing quangos, selling property, minimising fraud and error, getting value for money out of IT and reducing gold-plated salaries and pensions, the more there is to spend on soldiers or roads or border control or schools or hospitals. The more efficiency savings can be found the less services will have to be reduced. And the more there is to return to the taxpayer in the form of tax cuts.
Maude’s plans for the next Parliament are “to make £10 billion of savings from efficiency and reform
for 2017 to 2018 and £15 to £20 billion for 2019 to 2020”. But there will be a spending review after the next election, and those savings, or perhaps higher ones, will then have to be delivered.
So in the event of David Cameron returning to Downing Street, which Conservative Minister would best be placed in the Cabinet Office to ensure that this happens, and to co-plan and co-execute the next stage of the spending scaleback programme with the Treasury – to ensure that it bears down on waste rather than services as much as is possible?
One solution would be to move in a big Cabinet player with business experience such as Philip Hammond or Jeremy Hunt. But since such moves would be seen as demotions, they won’t happen. Another would be to appoint a young turk such as Nick Boles or Nick Herbert.
There is a more straightforward option. If the more senior names can’t be appointed, and the more junior ones aren’t yet senior enough – being less experienced at Westminster and Whitehall in-fighting as those who have served at Cabinet attendance level – why not simply let Lord Maude (as he will doubtless become) carry on for a year and see the spending round through? After which a younger replacement can take up the post.
In short, what’s need is someone who has ideas about how government can deliver better value for money, knows his way around Whitehall and Westminster, and is up for a scrap with Sir Humphrey if necessary. A key to Maude is that he is essentially a fighter – taking on first his party (over modernisation) and then important elements of the civil service (over reform).
You may not approve of the former but you will probably smile on the latter. Many of his colleagues certainly do – especially the reforming ones Two senior Cabinet Ministers at least believe that reappointing Maude to his present position for a year post-election would be the right move. David Cameron should do so if he gets the opportunity.