When waste, needless programmes, stupid jobs, pointless regulation, poor efficiency and rampant feather bedding are rife in an organisation, cutting costs is not only easy but rapidly makes the service better.
In the Sunday papers there was talk of having to cut 10% off total spending. That would not be difficult, nor need it be painful. As an MP who spends more than a third less than the average on running my office, if I had to cut another 10% that would just mean cancelling two of the three editions of the free newspaper each year, hardly a painful cut. Why haven’t I done that already you ask – because I promised to send one out each year when last seeking election, and have more recently consulted on whether I should cut it or not and been told No. I will propose no such spending commitment at the next election, given the financial climate.
In the 1990s when I was a Minister public spending was under much better control than today. The system was leaner and more efficient. Nonetheless,, coming in from running a cost conscious large industrial quoted company, I was shocked by just how much waste and inefficiency there was. I had far too many staff and far too big a budget in each department, and set about in each case getting it under control.
The Day One diary in a new department for any Minister has to include:
1. Impose a staff recruitment freeze – any new person recruited from otuside should require personal Ministerial approval following a submission showing why they cannot be appointed from within and posts removed.
2. Impose a freeze on new consultancy contracts. The Minister should say any request for him to give an answer on a new proposed consultancy contract will take him at least as long as it takes the department to answer the average letter from a member of the public. The answer will usually be as helpful!
3. Cancel most of the newspapers, magazines, tv subscriptions and other similar bought in items for the private office, and then ask senior officials to review their purchasing of the same. Tell them to run down their often huge stocks of paper, computer supplies, pens , paper clips and the rest.
4. Cancel all foreign trips and say you are going to sort out the mess at home first – unless you are in the Foreign office or helping the export drive.
5.With colleagues announce that no new recruit – if any are allowed – will be able to join the existing generous pension scheme.They will be offered a money pruchase scheme instead with a defined employer contribution.
6. Put into the diary a series of meetings to review all main areas of cost, with the purpose of closing down the inessential and making the necessary more efficient.
7. Call in all CEOs of quangos and related bodies, review their corporate plans, set them cost reduction targets or prepare them for abolition of their body.
When I was responsible for Companies House as a Minister, we had a typical public service efficiency and service quality problem. When I took it over there was large backlog of unopened post. This meant large amounts of information about companies that should have been on file was not available to the public, making it a very poor service. I was told we needed more staff to open the post.
We appointed a new CEO. I then discussed how we could remove the backlog with no extra staff. Our agreed approach was simple. We set the workforce a target to open susbtantially more post than they had been opening and filing each day, and said they could go home when they had achieved the new target. They started going home early, and the backlog fell sharply! We had probably underpitched the efficiency gain we knew they could achieve, but both sides were happy and the taxpayer was saved a big additional bill.
We need to do that or variants of it on a huge scale across the public sector.