Comment Blog 14 February, 2017

Whitehall's stories of success (III)

This article was first published in Reform’s 2017 Annual Conference brochure. To read more articles, click here.

“Putting the public finances on a sustainable path is vital to securing a strong and stable economy. The Government remains committed to returning the public finances to balance, ensuring that the UK lives within its means.” (Autumn Statement, 2016)

The Government announced in Budget 2016 that it would be taking forward an efficiency drive across government.

I know that this Review is right at the top of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury’s priorities, and in his first week in the job he delivered a speech to Reform on improving government efficiency and encouraging innovation. The Chief Secretary is working alongside the Minister for the Cabinet Office, the keynote speaker for this conference, to deliver the Efficiency Review.

The Efficiency Review has a broad focus, looking at how government can embed efficiency to help to deliver modern, flexible public services over the longer term, and supporting government to identify the £3.5 billion of cashable savings needed in 2019-20. Ongoing research and support from Reform will be key to helping the Government consider the options available to deliver these objectives.

The Chief Secretary believes that the centre of government can act as a hub for ideas, promoting and sharing the successes of one department with others. This could include improving government procurement, increasing sharing of resources across government departments, and considering alternative models to deliver public services more efficiently. I believe working together across government and the wider public sector will be essential in delivering the Review and identifying new ways of working that allow us to deliver more, and better, for less.

We have many good examples where the Government has successfully delivered efficiencies. For example, the introduction of GOV.UK helped to consolidate over 685 websites from over 300 agencies and government organisations onto a single platform, improving functionality and resulting in savings of £61.5 million in 2014-15.

We have also exited 2.4 million square metres of surplus property since May 2010, an area bigger than the entire state of Monaco, generating nearly £1.8 billion in capital receipts and saving over £750 million in running costs.

Alongside the Efficiency Review, the Cabinet Office, through their functional agenda, have continued to develop a number of cross-cutting programmes that can help departments make efficiency savings.

The functional agenda is key to strengthening government’s capability in areas such as digital, commercial and finance, and supporting cross-government transformation and efficiency. The functions help departments deliver government policy and objectives, by bringing specialist delivery skills and a cross-cutting perspective.

That’s not to say it will be easy. And implementing the agenda will require Whitehall to collaborate and work across traditional boundaries to identify further efficiency opportunities.

But as the Chief Secretary said when he spoke at Reform, good governments are always looking to improve, so I am looking forward to participating in this conference and hearing further ideas for driving efficiency.