Gordon Brown has said overpaid public sector workers will be “named and shamed” in efforts to deliver more value for money in public services. Ahead of the pre-Budget report, the PM said “efficiency savings” would help to save £12bn over four years – £3bn more than planned in the Budget. Crime maps and online school reports will be used to cut overheads as Labour tries to halve the Budget deficit.
The Conservatives say the government is not being straight on the cuts needed. The government has delayed its planned comprehensive spending review until after a general election. In the pre-Budget report, Mr Darling is expected to confirm annual borrowing will top £175bn – which the government has promised to halve within four years. In his speech in central London, Mr Brown said ministers had identified £3bn in additional efficiency savings since the Budget in April.
Of that, £1.3bn over four years would be achieved by streamlining central government, he said, indicating that certain programmes would have to be delayed or abandoned. We need to do what households up and down the country do to prioritise the necessities and postpone the things we can do without
Government spending on consultants would be cut by half and communication spending by a quarter – saving £650m – while more Civil Service staff would be relocated from London to “cheaper” premises. Whitehall departments could set up “common spending policies” and share office space, as part of a “third generation of changes in public services”. In its report, Putting The Frontline First, the government points out there are now 4,300 senior civil servants compared with 3,100 in the mid-1990s.
Mr Brown said public sector workers earning an “over-generous” salary would be “named and shamed”, as many had “lost touch” with normality. In future, all new public sector jobs with salaries above £150,000 will have to be approved by the Treasury while the details of civil servants and other public sector managers under direct ministerial control currently earning that amount will be published.
Mr Brown has ordered a review of senior public sector pay by the Senior Salaries Review Body to report by the Spring. He said: “Money which should be spent on health, on schools, on policing and on social services is, in some cases, going on excessive salaries and unjustified bonuses, far beyond the expectation of the majority of workers. This culture of excess must change and will change.” He added that the government would use technological advances to make services more user-friendly and cheaper.
As an example, sending text messages to remind patients about GP appointments could help save up to £600m a year wasted on missed visits. The public needed more “feedback and interaction” when using services, such as crime maps and giving parents online details of children’s progress at school, he added. Mr Brown promised to bring more such details on to the internet by next year. “The proposals we are setting out in this plan – which is just one element of our efforts to reduce the deficit – will go further than we have ever gone before in streamlining central government,” Mr Brown said.
“We have already promised savings of £35bn a year by 2011 on top of the £26.5bn a year already delivered through the Gershon [spending] review. “But by identifying new ways of working – and being prepared to make the tough choices – we can deliver in excess of another £12bn in efficiency savings over the next four years.
“This includes £3bn of new efficiency savings identified since the Budget – of which over £1.3bn will come from streamlining central government.”
The proposals were laid out in Parliament by Liam Byrne, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who said that saving money should be “everybody’s business”. Chancellor Alistair Darling told BBC One’s Andrew Marr show that public spending would be “a lot tighter than it was in the past” as a result.
He said parts of the troubled £12bn NHS IT system would be delayed as it “isn’t essential to the front line” – a move Health Secretary Andy Burnham told MPs on Monday would save £600m “over the lifetime of the programme”. Mr Darling said the full details of spending cuts would not be revealed until “the first half of next year at some point”.
Meanwhile, as part of plans to tackle the deficit in public finances, the Treasury is working on a possible windfall tax on what it sees as the exceptional profits of banks or the excessive bonuses of bankers.
But the Conservatives say the government is still not revealing the full extent of cuts needed to tackle Britain’s debts.
They say they would protect NHS and international development spending but the rest of Whitehall would face “very difficult choices” if the Tories won power. The party has also called for a moratorium on all government computer projects, claiming Labour has spent £100bn on IT since 1997 and that contracts worth another £70bn are due to be renewed or commissioned in the next two years.
Shadow Treasury minister Philip Hammond told MPs: “Since 2000 they’ve poured billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money into indifferent public services, borrowing and spending like it’s Monopoly money.”
He called Labour’s savings plans a “mish-mash of announcements and stolen clothes, in the dying months of their rule”.
Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman Vince Cable said: “If the government knew there was inefficiency, why hasn’t the government already dealt with it?” We have now reached the point where the investment gap which we inherited…in 1997 has been fixed.
He added that more had to be done to improve the level of independence local government has from Whitehall, in an effort to increase accountability. Jonathan Baume, general secretary of the First Division Association, which represents senior civil servants, called the government’s proposals on public sector workers “irresponsible”. He added that “this announcement looks more like crude electioneering than a sober assessment of the implications for central government of the fiscal crisis”.