Communities Secretary Eric Pickles is today calling on frontline local government workers to send Downing Street their best cost-saving ideas via the newly launched Spending Challenge website.
The Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister have written to the UK’s 6 million public sector workers, urging them to submit their suggestions for delivering better services for less money.
Local councils have a good track record of cutting waste and coming up with new ways of doing things so that money can be channeled to the frontline and spent on the services that matter most to their citizens. For example West Devon and South Hams Councils have just placed the first ever job advert for a cost-saving shared chief executive who will be responsible for the day to day running of both authorities simultaneously.
But Mr Pickles is convinced it’s those who work at the ‘coalface’ and who come into contact with the public day in, day out - the housing officer, the librarian, the dinner lady, the refuse collector, the planning officer - that are in the very best position to spot inefficiencies and come up with radical and innovative ways of doing things differently. Now is the time to give these ideas a national platform. The Prime Minister has promised that every serious idea will be given serious consideration and the most promising ones taken forward in the Spending Review process.
The coalition government has already acted swiftly to release local government from the dead-hand of central control, including scrapping the costly and burdensome inspection regime for councils. At the same time, it has set in train a radical programme to push power as far away from the centre as possible and to give local people power to influence what happens in their area.
The Spending Challenge is part of the commitment to ‘trust the people’.
In turn, ministers want to see council workers using their inspiration and insight to help tackle the nation’s deficit. Of the £122 billion projected to be spent this year by local government, a third is going on outside contracts where massive differences exist between what councils are paying for the same product or service. Ministers want local government employees to hunt out these variations and propose ways of getting the most profligate councils to follow the lead of the most thrifty.
For example at South Tyneside Council they redesigned their waste and recycling website pages after realising over 90% of queries were made by telephone costing £3.22 per call while a web visit cost just 27 pence per visitor. After their website re-design two thirds of all enquiries were made online - a real cost-saver and a better service. And the National Audit Office found that the cost of buying in toner cartridges varied by a staggering 745%, while envelopes varied by 348% and paper by 116%.
In his rallying call to frontline workers, Eric Pickles said:
Have you ever had an idea for saving money at work but no way of making it happen? Now is your time to step up. The new government wants to hear your ideas for cutting the backroom waste so we can protect the frontline services that matter.
The country is facing up to the £176 billion debt left behind by the last government which means there will be less money for local government in the coming years. But this government trusts you to do the right thing, which is why we are handing you more power. And it’s why we are deadly serious about giving you a say on where and how the country cuts its costs.
Ministers are already working with local government to help them find the right savings and recently supported the launch of the Local Government Association’s ‘Local Government’s National Productivity and Efficiency Programme’. Last week Mr Pickles co-chaired with Local Government Association Chief Dame Margaret Eaton the launch of this new drive.
There are already several positive examples of councils taking forward ambitious saving schemes so it’s clear there is plenty of innovation in local government- for example at Oxfordshire County Council where £4.5 million annual savings were found following the consolidation of human resources and finance services.
The Spending Challenge website is open to public sector workers now, and will be opened up to the general public on 8 July.