Spending Challenge: Think of a cut, any cut
If you work in the public sector then the odds are that over the next day or so you’ll receive an e-mail from the Prime Minister asking you to identify ways of helping the government make the swingeing cuts announced in Tuesday’s budget.
While a few public sector workers may happily engage in this process, I suspect the vast majority will be a little bit more sceptical of an initiative that smacks of spin rather than substance.
The idea that public sector workers, worried about potentially massive job cuts and faced with attacks on their pay and pensions , will be rushing to suggest ways that those cuts can be made stretches the imagination somewhat.
A quick glance at the ‘Spending Challenge’ web-site shows no reference to how the government will engage and consult with unions during this process – and the timescale for this initiative (from initial e-mail suggestion to fully worked out proposal to be included in the CSR on October 20) suggests a pretty superficial process.
More substantively, this initiative takes the seed of a good idea and then denudes it of integrity. Anyone who has worked in our public services knows that it’s the people who deliver those services who often know how best those services could be delivered. It’s the hospital porters, local government admin workers and classroom assistants, who have the best ideas for delivering public services effectively and efficiently.
But tapping into that potential well of expertise needs more than a web-site and an e-mail form. Real innovation requires a commitment to working in partnership –public sector workers, union reps and local managers sitting down to think about how best they can deliver services to the benefit of service users, the wider community and those delivering the service alike. Crucially it means putting a focus on improving services, not just cutting costs.
Initiatives like ‘Drive for Change’ (web-link now removed from the Cabinet Office web-site) show what can happen if this bottom-up, collaborative approach is taken.
Is there a value in working together to improve our public services and find better ways of delivering those services – yes.
Will public sector workers be motivated to engage in the ‘Spending Challenge’ in the face of a 25% cut in budgets across the public sector – no.