Government efficiency drive on track but still a 'long way to go'

Francis Maude The government has a duty to cut its running costs, Mr Maude says

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Efforts to cut the cost of running government are on track but have a "long way to go", ministers have said.

Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude said the efficiency drive had been focused so far on "low-hanging fruit" but would move "further up the tree".

The largest single saving over the past year - £1.5bn - came from a fall in civil servant numbers and controls on non-essential Whitehall recruitment.

Spending on consultants, marketing, property and procurement also fell.

Labour has said cuts are hitting core services, but Mr Maude told the BBC eliminating unnecessary spending and using resources more efficiently would actually help protect front-line budgets.

The government say they managed £5.5bn in departmental efficiency savings between March 2011 and March 2012 and these have been independently audited.

Of these, £1bn was saved by using fewer consultants, £390m on limiting marketing budgets, £200m by rationalising the government's property portfolio and £500m from more efficient buying of goods and services across different departments.

'First duty'

The cuts come on top of £3.75bn saved between May 2010 and March 2011.

Mr Maude said the government, like any business, had to increase its productivity and given the scale of the deficit it had inherited, it was the coalition's "first duty" to cut its own costs.

The "rising expectations" of the public could still be met while spending money more wisely, he said.

Start Quote

We have harvested mainly low-hanging fruit so far... we need to go further up the tree”

End Quote Francis Maude Cabinet Office minister

"In many cases, they enable us to improve the service better," he said.

"Where we make a service available online, it is in many cases more convenient for the service user as well as being much, much cheaper.

"We can get services which are as good or better than they are now but for much less cost."

He defended the reduction in civil-service headcount, saying it had "grown unnecessarily" under Labour and, in many cases, things could be done better with fewer staff.

"We are cutting the size of the civil service considerably. It is already the smallest since World War II and there is more to go."

'Perfect state'

Many civil servants were "adapting well" and finding new ways of working, but Mr Maude added that conditions were "challenging" and many officials were "out of the comfort zone".

Unions are currently at odds with ministers over plans for long-term reform of the civil service.

These could see the worst performing 10% of staff face being fired after a year if they fail to improve, new delivery methods for services, and ministers given the power to choose who runs departments.

The civil servant who has been leading the government's efficiency drive since the coalition came to power, Ian Watmore, left his post suddenly earlier this summer.

But Mr Maude said the savings programme had a "long way to go" since no organisation, including government, was ever in a "perfect state" of efficiency.

"We need to go further. We have harvested mainly low-hanging fruit so far. We need to go further up the tree.

"That means getting some ladders and doing things a bit differently in future."

For Labour, Jon Trickett, shadow Cabinet Office minister, said: "Far from protecting the front line, they are cutting thousands of police officers and have broken their promise to protect the NHS budget which has fallen two years in a row.

"Already, 4,500 nurses have been cut since David Cameron became Prime Minister. And yet at the same time the salary bill for Tory and Lib Dem spin doctors has risen by 25% in just one year - so much for cutting the cost of Government."

Campaign group The Taxpayers Alliance said some departments were doing better than others.

"When the Department for Energy and Climate Change increases its headcount, for example - as it has done every quarter over the past year - that only serves to undo the good work being done elsewhere to clean away unnecessary fat in the arteries of government," it said.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 239.

    3 Hours ago

    Lord Digby Jones. Don't even go down that road, you are falling into the trap that someone because of his title with little if any experience other then floating around the CBI is qualified to make objective proposal is beyond belief. The government signalled their objective of cuts inadvance. Digby Jones obliged, about as objective as a cat with a tin of salmon.

  • rate this

    Comment number 238.

    234.Dr Bob Matthews

    It isn't nonsense at all. And regarding the private sector, stating isolated cases such as the one you mention (computer manufacturer) does not indicate an overall trend.

    What do you say to posters here talking about perferential suppliers?
    Can you please explain why 20000 people are needed in MOD procurement?

    And no, I'm not in favour of sacking doctors and nurses.

  • Comment number 237.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 236.

    @230 Dr Bob

    OK, point taken. Sorry to all Lemon fans. I didn't think it through too much as I'm an 'on the rocks' type.

  • rate this

    Comment number 235.

    Cut costs in Parliamentary circles to set a good example. Cabinet posts (they can be filled by volunteerr MPs. PM - make it a rotating post for all persons in cabinet. Speaker-again, a rotating job with no additional sinecure with housing. Expenses- get hostels set up for London nights- or cut parliamentary hours and save staff wages, electricity etc. Not much saved but it serves as an example!

  • rate this

    Comment number 234.

    Comment number 54 is an Editors' Pick
    I was incredulous not that you wrote this nonsense but you actually believe it. A Private sector major computer manufacturer hired a new Finance Director. He got rid of 83 graduate code specialists and saved over £6Million at stroke. When the new product came on line no one was left who understood the software, only in the Private Sector

  • rate this

    Comment number 233.

    218.Dr Bob
    . He won't even bill you for the work, which in view of your venom is amazing

    So the cost of my private health care plan per month isnt a Bill ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    seems our parliment has hit the them and us wall both big parties are run by inept fools and no matter who the public elect they end up with career minded self interested lords wanna be's, this countries population deserves better but these parties wont allow us the choice, times up time for a new way.

  • rate this

    Comment number 231.

    #220 that is exactly the sort of public sector cuts that are needed. I remember reading a couple of years ago that we had more admirals than ships and that there was roughly 1 civil servant for every 4 members of the armed forces. Most other countries were at 1 civil servant for every 6 armed forces and they still thought they had too many civil servants!

  • rate this

    Comment number 230.

    It was this form of Darwinian economics that led to the Lehman crisis. If we are comparing people to fruit them I say Maude is a lemon.

    I take exception to part of your post, I am somewhat particular what I use in my gin and tonic! Why insult lemons? I think a dried prune would describe succinctly, what you have in mind.

  • rate this

    Comment number 229.

    The problem with all Tory governments is they do not understand what Public Service means. It doesn't make a profit, therefore it is bad. What they fail to grasp in their salami slicing small minds is that without the Public Service the country would collapse in on itself. For a government with the collective metal powers of a dead wombat someone need to explain it to them using flash cards.

  • rate this

    Comment number 228.

    I know I'd personaly like to cut 'the low hanging fruit' off a few politicians that talk out of their collective rear end!

  • rate this

    Comment number 227.

    I can think of millions of pound of savings government departments can make if they are allowed to follow the same shoddy practices that certain private sector companies who have been awarded contracts. CRB checks cost £44 each, that soon mounts up especially when you aren't paying for them as you should be.

  • rate this

    Comment number 226.

    Politician sound bites (must be an election due somewhere) Call for something that the public likes but dont mention how it is to be done or where the money is coming from or the consequences from doing it. It's all about someone else implementing a policy while politicians smirk and think the public will think he's a good bloke and on their side.

  • rate this

    Comment number 225.

    A smaller state means a state that is less able to monitor and regulate business functions whilst increasing need due to lack of adequate service provision. I can see why this would appeal to some sections of society as it creates a downward spiral of failing services, rising taxes and sophists hiding behind weak arguments to line their own pockets. Some politicians are so transparent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 224.

    Want a bit of the action as a politician? - no specific skills required - you too can be voted in - however these jobs have the best pensions, expenses, opportunity to work second jobbing, longest holiday possible, relocation costs, free booze and grub on the job, knowing your incompetence is not going to get in the way. Jammy I say. Not really the real world is it Maude?

  • rate this

    Comment number 223.

    Nicely timed Maude

    Still a drop compared to the increase in imbalance of trade.

    Suggest you try harder cut the silly beggars and the restructure postures.

    OH we are also tired of Sound-bites Bad management starts at the top.

    Germany is a good benchmark and our leaders don't compete.

  • rate this

    Comment number 222.

    Agreed with what some people saying here - the biggest 'cost reduction' could be pursuing the tax dodgers - avoiders or evaders!
    Not contributing to the running of the country is bankrupting the UK, whether done illegally or not.
    Our govt is morally bankrupt already - great choice! Complete indivualist mentality (tory) or emotional driven (labour) no wonder we are all over the place

  • rate this

    Comment number 221.

    The public sector has been cut-back and the private sector is in no position to take up the slack and create jobs. What will this government do to stimulate the economy?

  • rate this

    Comment number 220.

    Can someone please get stuck into the MoD's civil servant numbers rather than front line troops. 23000 in procurement alone.
    This is a national scandal alongside the numbers of admirals,generals and air marshalls - why not privatise procurement altogether on a percentage of budget basis with incentives/clawbacks for under and overruns.
    We have plenty of companies more than capable.


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