Monday, January 18, 2010

Do Conservative plans add up? What would Margaret Thatcher say?

I've been looking at Conservative plans for reducing public expenditure over the past week and, to be honest, I've not been particularly impressed. Admittedly, you might expect that - 'Liberal Democrat endorses Conservative spending plans' is particularly unlikely given who I am - but I'm genuinely disappointed by the timidity of these proposals. It's almost as though the Conservatives want not just power, but to be loved too. It's hard to imagine a Margaret Thatcher-led administration taking such a stance.

This is the phrase that prefaces the proposals on the Conservative Party website;

These are examples of specific savings that should be made in addition to the tens of billions of pounds of efficiency savings and productivity improvements that the Conservatives would deliver throughout the public sector over the next Parliament in order to reduce waste, deliver more for less, and protect frontline public services:

It has that uncertain element of 'it's government, it must be inefficient' to it. And, of course, there is an element of truth to that. However, there appears to be no question of why this is so. If there are tens of billions of efficiency savings and productivity improvements to be found, and it is so easy to do so, some of it would have happened by now. No government wants to spend vast amounts of money on waste and inefficiency, it wants to spend money on doing things.

Now I am no friend of this government. However, what I do know is that, since Labour gained power in 1997, I have personally experienced four major reorganisations, each one intended to achieve efficiency savings and productivity improvements. In HM Revenue & Customs, where I work, there have been a series of office closures, transfers of work away from the South East, the abolition of Regional offices, the introduction of mandatory e-filing of PAYE returns and, amongst all this, the loss of 20,000 staff. It is foolish to suggest that a concerted effort has not already been made to cut costs and improve efficiency.

The challenge therefore, for our Conservative friends, is to find out where further savings can be made through organisational and structural change. I would suggest that they would be better off trying to find things that Government need not do, as that's where the big savings are to be found.

Unfortunately, our blue friends are too busy trying to be loved to find time to talk about real cuts, about a rolling up of the State, about unshackling people from the nanny state. The debate about what the nation wants, what it needs and what it can afford is going to have to be started by someone else.

If Margaret Thatcher were dead, she'd be turning in her grave...

I'm no friend of Lady Thatcher, but at least you knew what she stood for.

1 comment:

liberaleye said...

Agreed that there are big savings to be had in finding things that the government need not/should not do but I think there are a lot of efficiency savings to be made as well.

The difficulty as I see it (admittedly from 'outside') is that past reorganisations have actually been of the 'deck chairs on the Titanic' variety that left the real road blocks to better efficiency in place.

For instance, anytime there are centrally mandated targets the overall efficiency will be very low but all recent governments have been thoroughly committed to targets.

Also there has been a great love affair with centralised paper 'factories' to get economies of scale in back-office functions. These are utterly illusory so efficiency is impaired yet again.

I haven't seen any polls about what the public think of government efficiency but I guess they think its dire which is why "government is useless" framings work so well.

There needs to be a much bigger rethink than we've yet had. This is what the country needs and its a huge political opportunity that no-one is making their own.