No. 86 July 2004 Efficient Government
The Scottish Executive has launched an Efficient Government initiative
that is designed to deliver public sector savings of £500m by
2007-8 and £1 billion by 2009-10. These savings will be redirected
to 'front line' services. This briefing explains the initiative
and the similar announcement by the UK government in the UK Spending
Review 2004, together with UNISON Scotland's initial response
and advice to branches.
This initiative covers all public services in Scotland. It will
therefore be a feature of the performance review of all public
bodies over the coming years.
It starts with recognition that much has already been achieved
in Scotland through Best Value, NHS reform and the modernising
government initiative. Efficient methods of working delivered
through these initiatives pre date the headlines created by the
UK Government's Gershon review of the civil service.
The Efficient Government initiative aims to identify efficiencies
through new ways of working. Examples include Scotland's e-procurement
system that has brought together the previously fragmented public
sector purchasing arrangements with significant cost savings.
There will be a strong emphasis on public bodies sharing back
office systems, using technology and standard systems to avoid
duplication and waste. Public bodies will be encouraged to co-operate,
ending the last vestiges of the wasteful competitive market structures
that were a feature of the Tory years.
The financial targets are very broad and have not been built
up from individual targets for each public body. Instead the approach
is to encourage innovation and sharing ideas. To stimulate this
process there will be an Efficient Government fund worth £60m
over two years that public bodies will be able to bid for to fund
spend to save plans. A Sounding Board will be established to consider
ideas and promote good practice.
All savings will be redirected to 'front line' services not returned
to the Executive. Unlike the UK government announcement there
are no headline grabbing targets for job losses. Change there
will be - but with an expanding public sector the emphasis will
be on redeployment and retraining.
The UK Spending Review 2004 announcements rightly drew condemnation
from the civil service unions. The Chancellor does not decide
staffing numbers in Scotland for devolved services a fact lost
on the media and many politicians who clearly have not understood
the full impact of devolution. In fact the Executive's admin costs
are 2.6% as a proportion of overall spending compared with 4.3%
for UK departments.
UNISON Scotland Response
UNISON recognises that all public sector organisations should
be aware of opportunities to work more efficiently and effectively.
We welcome the Minister's recognition that the public sector in
Scotland has been taking this agenda forward for some time. Any
savings can also be used to address the low pay that is impeding
the recruitment and retention of public service workers.
UNISON has also promoted, through our Revitalise Scotland's Public
Services principles, opportunities for public bodies to co-operate
across organisational boundaries as an alternative to costly reorganisation
and privatisation. This is the radical Scottish approach to public
service improvement. Co-operation not competition, service redesign
to meet real needs not some mythical 'choice'. It is disappointing
that yet again many commentators can see no further than the solutions
proposed in England. A much larger country with very different
problems. Five years on from devolution there is a need to focus
on Scottish solutions to Scottish problems - not constantly use
England as a reference point.
UNISON is however concerned that in the past 'efficiency savings'
have simply been a mask for real cuts in services or privatisation.
A smokescreen to address financial shortfalls elsewhere in the
budget. We welcome the assurances that this is not a cuts agenda.
However, artificial targets that have no evidence base, can give
the impression that this exercise is more about cuts than efficiency.
Constant reorganisation and change can also undermine effective
public service delivery.
Phrases like 'attacking bureaucracy' and constant references
to 'front line' services, can devalue the vital role of staff
who support the delivery of services.
UNISON will also respond to the Minister's invitation to identify
proposals for efficiency savings. For example the £5.8bn the Scottish
Executive is wasting on the additional cost of PFI schemes as
compared to conventional procurement.
Efficient Government will not result in a one off 'big bang'
style of plan. There will be a range of initiatives that branches
need to be aware of. A starting point is to identify your employer's
plans through the normal bargaining machinery. Look for any bids
to the Efficient Government Fund or previous bids to the Modernising
Branches should anticipate that shared services will be high
on the agenda. P&I Briefing 10 (Jan.2001) anticipated this
development and sets out some guidance. This does not have to
mean combining services across Scotland. Regional or virtual solutions
may be more appropriate. Encourage employers to look across public
service boundaries for more localised solutions.
Remember that savings are to be reallocated to services. Ensure
your employer can identify how this is to be achieved.
Please forward examples of good and bad practice to Dave Watson
at the P&I Team in UNISON House firstname.lastname@example.org. This
will enable us to develop further guidance for branches and engage
with government as required.
14 West Campbell Street
Tel: 0845 355 0845
Fax: 0141 307 2572
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