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In August 2015 the Chancellor and Chief Secretary wrote to all public sector workers asking for their ideas on how the government could do more for less. The Spending Review and Autumn Statement 2015 announces the results of the exercise.
1. Who participated in the survey?
Just over 22,000 suggestions were submitted as part of the challenge, from a wide range of organisations in the public sector:
- 5,000 who work in healthcare and the NHS
- 3,200 who work in local government
- 2,500 who work in education and schools
- 1,400 who work in defence and the military
- 1,300 from those who work in policing
The remainder were submitted by civil servants, including those working in agencies and public bodies, such as Jobcentre Plus.
2. What were the most common suggestions for change?
Individuals placed their ideas into the following categories:
2.1 Staffing terms and conditions
Ideas in this category include reducing the number of agency workers and contractors, reforming terms and conditions (such as sickness pay), changing workloads, and improving the efficiency of the performance management system.
2.2 Collaboration and making services work better together
Ideas focused on sharing resources and aligning processes between services to save money – for example between so-called ‘’blue lights’’ services (the police, fire brigade and ambulance services) or between health and social care services – for example, joining up mental health services to improve treatment.
2.3 IT and digital ideas
in this category included abolishing paper processes through digitising services, reducing expenditure on travel through video conferencing, introducing common technology standards so different systems can be linked (for example the NHS and social services), and increasing data-sharing between agencies to improve public services and help reduce crime and benefit fraud.
2.4 Reducing bureaucracy
Suggestions here included reducing the number of managers and back office staff and streamlining the outsourcing process.
2.5 The use of resources
A small proportion of respondents classified their idea as relating to the use of resources. This category included practical ideas such as pooling vehicles to save money, investing in energy-saving measures, and setting up a furniture ‘’swap-shop’’ to prevent throwing away old furniture.
One-third of those who took the survey did not place their ideas into any of these categories. Many of these ideas related to improving government procurement, for example, renegotiating PFI deals.
3. Which ideas have departments decided to take forward?
The Spending Review and Autumn Statement 2015 announces 16 ideas that the government will introduce as policy over this Parliament. Many of the other ideas submitted will continue to inform government policy development, and may be introduced at a later date.
The ideas that the government is taking forward are:
3.1 Police procurement
Supporting police forces to collaborate in order to secure better deals when buying items like police uniforms, vehicles or IT. This will allow forces to deliver savings of up to £350 million over the Spending Review period. For example, in June 2015 a number of forces collaborated at an e-auction to purchase 2,500 police vehicles, saving them an estimated £5 million per year.
3.2 Service collaboration
Driving stronger collaboration between different services, to deliver efficiencies and improve outcomes:
- between police forces – for example, sharing more corporate functions such as finance and HR. Decisions are for local Police and Crime Commissioners and Chief Constables, but the government has placed a strong duty on forces to collaborate where is in the interests of efficiency and effectiveness; and
- between so-called ‘’blue lights services’’ by introducing a new statutory duty for emergency services to collaborate by early 2017, subject to parliamentary approval, and by bringing forward legislation to allow Police and Crime Commissioners to take on responsibility for fire and rescue services, where there is a clear business case and local support
3.3 Using more digital communications
Increasing digital communications from Companies House as part of their ambition to be 100% digital. Companies House will develop a voluntary system for companies to receive statutory and non-statutory notices by digital channels – for example, a notice that a new director has been registered with Companies House. This will improve the customer experience for businesses, and could save up to £1 million for Companies House over the Parliament.
3.4 Improving infection control
Launching a new initiative to prevent hospital-based infections by sharing best practice across the NHS. The Department of Health will focus on strengthening local communication and increasing information-sharing through national websites. This could save over £700,000 a year, and more importantly, could contribute to the prevention of an estimated 6 infections a month.
3.5 Paperless NHS
As part of the move towards a paperless NHS, expanding the number of patients booking their GP appointments online (with 20% of patients using online GP services by 2018) and moving to fully electronic referrals. Initial referrals from GPs to outpatient appointments will be paperless by 2018, which will improve the speed at which people are referred and deliver over £200 million of benefits over five years.
3.6 Contractors and agency staff
Taking further action to reduce spend on contractors and agency staff across the public sector. The government’s ambition is to reduce this by at least 20% by the end of the Parliament. This will save over £1 billion.
3.7 Straightforward online passport renewal and replacement
Introducing an online passport application service option for all straightforward renewal and replacement applications. A £50 million investment will enable British Citizens to apply for passports, book face to face interviews, report lost/stolen passports, pay, and track their application progress entirely online.
3.8 Car sharing
Supporting car-sharing in Defence, by helping military and civilian personnel to share journeys from the same areas, working towards the Ministry of Defence’s commitment to reduce transport usage by 10%, benefitting the environment while also saving money. The government will also explore the opportunity for personnel to use their own cars and claim back motor mileage.
3.9 UK-based ‘Adventurous training’
Reducing the cost of ‘Adventurous training’ in the military, by ensuring that where possible, challenging outdoor training is carried out in locations in the UK, saving £20 million over the Parliament. This type of activity will remain an important part of military training, and not all circumstances can be replicated, but where possible the aim will be to avoid unnecessary expensive trips abroad.
3.10 Web chat instead of phone calls
Introducing a live web-chat offer like instant messenger to answer queries about benefit claims, rather than doing this over the phone, as part of the development of the Universal Credit Digital Service.
3.11 Moving services online
Piloting a digital form for collecting health-related information from benefit claimants. The ESA50 form is currently 50 pages long, and moving this online will make it much more user-friendly and save money for government once fully rolled out.
3.12 Sharing office space
Significantly expanding the number of co-locations between Jobcentre Plus and other services, including Local Authorities, providing a more joined up service for citizens and supporting the Department for Work and Pensions to make substantial reductions in their estates, of over 20 per cent.
3.13 Reducing government travel
Reducing government travel through working in a smarter way, for example using videoconferencing facilities such as Skype, and increasing the uptake of cheaper central travel contracts, saving up to £50 million per year by 2020.
3.14 Paper payslips phased out
Abolishing paper payslips in Whitehall, saving at least £500,000 a year in administrative costs. Most departments are already issuing electronic payslips, but with the exception of a few cases where individuals still have a good reason to access them, paper payslips be phased out from Whitehall.
3.15 Opening up government data
Opening up government data – the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will open up 8,000 datasets over the next year to support agriculture and help citizens and businesses find ways to protect the environment. This is already starting to have significant impact – for example, opening up one dataset has helped English wine companies pinpoint the best location to plant vines. Experts have already identified an estimated 75,000 acres of land across the country – equivalent to the Champagne region in France – that could be suitable for growing grapes.
3.16 Helping schools get better deals
Introducing a range of measures to help schools save money on common items such as stationary or furniture, including exploring the option of a price-comparison website to reduce the time and resource schools have to invest in securing cost-effective deals.
The survey also demonstrated support for a number of other government initiatives announced as part of the Spending Review.
4. What will happen to the remaining ideas?
Many of the other ideas submitted will continue to inform government policy development, and may be introduced at a later date. Some had already been implemented or were in the process of being implemented.
In a few cases it was simply not practical or affordable to implement the idea, or not in line with the government’s policy objectives.