The new Director of the Centre for Social Justice (announcement here), Gavin Poole, has kicked off his leadership of the think tank founded by Iain Duncan Smith in a manner that will underline his determination to be an independent-minded voice.
The view of ministers in many Whitehall departments is that George Osborne and Danny Alexander are forcing cuts in spending without a strategic view of which services are most important to protect. The Treasury has always been a reform-weary department and the fear is that officials have captured Mr Osborne for their approach.
Mr Poole issued this statement:
“Our fear is that cuts will be made the wrong way. Instead of assessing the true productivity of programmes and cutting those that are ineffective, we will see salami-slicing: equal cuts off all programmes, good and bad. We will see cuts based on political calculation from politicians and cuts based on administrative ease for Civil Servants. What we won’t see is an overarching rational approach which looks at what works in achieving the Government’s core objectives. Ministers are effectively flying blind, under orders to cut programmes by up to 40 per cent but with confused guidance about their departments' objectives and how they should choose between spending options. The Spending Review Framework announced the end of the public service agreement targets, but was completely silent on what should replace them.”
In an article for yesterday's Sunday Times (£) Mr Poole looked for inspiration across the Atlantic:
"The Washington State Institute for Public Policy in the US, an independent body that assesses the cost-effectiveness of social spending, is helping the state of Washington to achieve better value for public spending. For example, when the institute found that an intensive early intervention initiative called the Nurse Family Partnership had generated almost $3 (£1.90) in savings for every dollar invested, the state decided to divert more money towards it."
The Sunday Times welcomed the CSJ thinking in its leader column (£):
"This is an opportunity to get things right, to tackle the cycle of idleness and dependency and the “why work?” syndrome. It is also an opportunity to make sure the cuts made now give us a state that is smaller and more sustainable, not one that will have voters crying out for the politicians to turn the taps back on. The spending axe has to fall. It is important, however, that it does so smartly."