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Briefing No. 86 July 2004 Efficient Government


July 2004
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.

Efficient Government

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.

Branch Action

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 Government fund.

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 d.watson@unison.co.uk. This will enable us to develop further guidance for branches and engage with government as required.

Contacts list:

Dave Watson

@P&I Team
14 West Campbell Street
G2 6RX

Tel: 0845 355 0845
Fax: 0141 307 2572

Scottish Executive | Scottish Parliament | Briefings Home



Further Information

  • Please forward examples of good and bad practice to Dave Watson at the P&I Team in UNISON House d.watson@unison.co.uk. This will enable us to develop further guidance for branches and engage with government as required.