Whitehall efficiency drive 'working' says Ian Watmore

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The man in charge of reducing government waste has said £2bn has already been saved through better use of property, procurement and IT.

Ian Watmore told MPs that efforts to save £3bn this year by making Whitehall work more efficiently were on course.

The drive would ensure money was spent where it was most needed and frontline services were not being hit, he told the Public Administration Committee.

Labour say the targets are unachievable without hitting quality of services.

Mr Watmore is head of the Efficiency and Reform Group, established to make savings across Whitehall by eliminating duplication and getting a better deal for taxpayers from government spending.

'Waste and fat'

In December, the Cabinet Office said £1bn had already been saved since the coalition came to power, half of this from a freeze on recruitment and marketing as well as spending on consultants, IT projects and property.

Appearing before MPs, Mr Watmore said this figure had now risen to more than £2bn and he dismissed suggestions that "waste and fat" comprised some key services.

"We have property around the country that we don't need," he said, pointing out that leases of government occupied buildings were being renegotiated and unused premises abandoned.

"That is one way of reducing waste we have which has no direct impact on frontline services. If we can purchase goods and services more cheaply, then we will produce greater savings which will not impact on the frontline."

MPs have criticised government efforts to save money in several areas, saying the plans to abolish hundreds of quangos and merge others is ill-thought out and will not improve accountability.

Mr Watmore, a former head of the Football Association and head of the No 10 Delivery Unit under Gordon Brown, said the government efficiency drive would inevitably lead to greater centralisation in some areas as officials sought to "get to grips" with wasteful spending.

But he denied that this was in conflict with the government's localism or "big society" drive to encourage local communities to take greater responsibility and to make public services more accountable.

Citing Tuesday's publication of local crime maps in England, Mr Watmore said this demonstrated the government's determination to "allow local communities to take control of the agendas that affect them most".

But Labour MP Paul Flynn said the crime maps were a "gimmick" that would actually reinforce people's fear of crime and make life more difficult for the police.

"They are just about as productive as the cones hotline," he said.

But the top civil servant at the Home Office, Helen Ghosh, defended them, saying the government "owed" it the public to provide accurate information.

She also said she believed the maps would reduce fear of crime because many people would discover that crime in their area was actually "very low" - contrary to how it was often portrayed.

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