Speech

Address by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Rt Hon Danny Alexander MP, at the Reform Conference

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

An address on efficiencies and reforms following Spending Round 2013, delivered by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

The Rt Hon Danny Alexander

Thank you Andrew [Haldenby].

I was very pleased to be invited to speak here today.

And to have the chance to thank Reform for their help with the recent Spending Round. I’ll come back to that.

In fact, a Reform conference seems a very apt forum in which to reflect on the announcements that the Chancellor and I made last month.

Because the plans we laid out for public spending to 2015-16 didn’t just represent an efficiency Spending Round.

They also represented a reforming Spending Round.

I’d like to reflect on those efficiencies and those reforms this afternoon.

But I’d also like to look towards the changes that still need to be made.

This Spending Round

Given our economic inheritance, one of this government’s biggest challenges was finding ways to deliver better public services for less money.

I certainly didn’t come into politics to cut public spending.

But it is an absolute necessity of our times.

I didn’t come into politics to oversee wasteful spending either.

Yet wasteful, thoughtless, inefficient spending has accumulated over many years, in which politicians’ aversions to difficult choices trumped care for the taxpayers’ pound.

And that’s why we’ve delivered radical structural reforms over the last three years.

  • overseeing the biggest change to our welfare system in a generation, to ensure that it always pays to work

  • radically overhauling our pensions system, to make savings easier, and ensure that people can better plan for their long term futures

  • putting doctors and clinicians in control of your local health budgets, rather than managers and bureaucrats

  • putting power into local hands, and dismantling the web of targets that distorted public services

Last month’s Spending Round built on that progress, taking decisions that will get further value for money from our public services.

To help inform those decisions, I attended some excellent seminars run by Reform – thank you Andrew.

They were seminars which bought together the police staff and health professionals and local government officials that oversee the spending of public money every day.

And the discussions we had at those events, highlighted how much further we can go to deliver even more efficient public services, and were genuinely helpful with some of the big decisions we made.

Health and social care

In our roundtable on health and social care integration, we discussed the frustration of people being moved from pillar to post, falling down the cracks between two services that the public expect to be seamless.

People who were dropped at Accident and Emergency for the weekend, because those in the social care sector didn’t have the capacity to look after them.

Elderly people whose stay in hospital could have been prevented by simple adaptations to their homes.

And we discussed how this problem was exacerbated by local health and social care teams that sometimes seemed incapable of communication, meaning that too often, elderly people were being forced to tell their story again and again to the next health professional they met.

But we also learned about areas where collaboration between those teams was being well managed, and producing great results.

Like in the tri-borough area of London where, through ensuring that budgets and payments focussed on people rather than procedures, and by integrating their health and social care systems, they are on track to save £40 million every year from 2015.

£40 million of savings, while providing a better – more caring – service to the most vulnerable people in the area.

Because of this success, we announced at Spending Round that we will invest an extra £2 billion through the NHS for local health and social care systems.

A total of £3.8 billion that can only be spent if the services work together.

Using my spending levers in the Treasury to drive a radical transformation in delivery.

This will not only deliver huge efficiencies in public spending;

But it will also deliver a better service to the public – stopping older and disabled people from being passed from one silo to another.

More for less.

Criminal Justice System

On the Police and Criminal Justice, we currently have a system that is clogged up by paperwork and administrative inefficiencies;

  • court cases put on hold while missing pieces of information are collected from offices

  • policemen and women waiting in the corridors of courts to give evidence, when they should be out on the street

  • a Crown Prosecution Service that uses 160 million sheets of paper every year

But some areas are already making progress in removing these outdated methods.

Like at the UK’s first digital court in Birmingham.

A court where video links mean not only that the victims of crime are more likely to come forward, but that they can also have their cases dealt with more quickly.

We are now making changes to build on Birmingham’s progress.

  • introducing WiFi and Digital Evidence Screens to the majority of our court houses, so that information can be found more easily, and evidence provided more efficiently
  • providing new technologies for the police frontline, which will allow them to

    • patrol the right areas, dictated by real-time intelligence; and
    • record information digitally at the scene, rather than head back to the station

Less time behind a desk.

More time on the street.

Again – these aren’t just changes that will increase efficiencies and reduce public spending.

They are reforms that will improve our criminal justice system.

More for less.

Future reforms

It is absolutely right that government continues to react and respond to advances in technology to improve the way we work.

In fact, there’s also an argument that we’ve got a lot to learn from the technology industry.

One of the most frustrating sentences that I’m regularly confronted with, a sentence I was asked in the debate immediately after the Spending Round, is:

But surely there are no more efficiencies to be found?

I don’t think any technology firm – any private sector firm in fact – would take that attitude.

Can you imagine Apple or Sony taking that attitude?

Car companies haven’t reinvented the wheel, but every year they’ve made sure that their wheels have become lighter and stronger. That things move quicker.

And we expect government to be like that.

We’ve established a group of commercial experts to help us find savings in central government.

And I was the first Chief Secretary ever to have had such a pool of expertise at my disposal during a Spending Round.

I’ve announced that those experts will conduct rolling efficiency reviews of all departments - reviews that will find further savings, while protecting the services that we all value.

But we don’t expect departments to simply carry on as they are, until someone taps them on the shoulder and asks them to reduce their budget again.

Nor do we expect departments, or Local Authorities or Arms Length Bodies to look at their spending settlements and make the odd squeeze here or cut there to fit their spending within it.

Government shouldn’t be twenty years behind business and the rest of society.

We should be constantly alert to how changes in technology or training or information exchange can help us to work more smartly and more efficiently.

And I’d say the same thing to Reform.

If you have ideas or innovations as to where we can reform our public services, and give the taxpayer better value for money, don’t wait until we’re writing our election manifestos to bring them to us.

Come and tell us now.

As we learnt in the run-up to this Spending Round, we need to become better at sharing our ideas.

Where something isn’t working, we need to be frank and we need to address it.

And where something is working, we need to shout about it.

So I want more people to know about the tri-borough Area and Birmingham Magistrates Court.

I want more people to know about the success of our Troubled Families Programme.

Wandsworth, for example, has already turned around the lives of a quarter of their troubled families and is on track to save £29,000 per family as a result.

I want more people to know about the progress being made on Emergency Services Collaboration.

Such as in Hampshire, where fire, police and the council are joining up their back offices to save £4 million a year.

I want people to learn from those successes, and to replicate them up and down the UK.

Civil Service

Of course, it’s one thing to find these savings.

But it takes the right financial management to deliver them.

So I’ve set up a review to make sure we have the capabilities across Whitehall to do just that.

So we have a long way to go.

But we’ve made some huge reforms.

And those huge reforms have been delivered by the smallest Civil Service since the Second World War.

I know that there remains a certain stereotype of the civil servant, as someone who spends their days saying ‘no’ to Ministers.

Some politicians have reinforced that stereotype.

And so – when it comes to civil servants – I want to do something quite radical.

I want to say something nice about them.

It is entirely right that expert officials should analyse proposals in terms of evidence, and raise difficult questions about the costs and implications of putting them into effect.

And it is also right that a non-political civil service should work impartially for whichever party or coalition is in power.

An independent civil service has always been – and must remain – a vital part of our democracy.

The public servants I’ve met during my time in office haven’t wanted to waste public money.

They’ve been people who take satisfaction from providing a useful service to the UK public.

They work hard to deliver on the policies, the savings and the reforms our country needs.

And I want to thank them for it.

And if you believe the perception that all civil servants sneak off at five, then I suggest you speak to the pizza deliverers of Westminster about the hours they’ve been called to various corners of Whitehall - especially in the weeks leading up to the Spending Round.

So I have confidence that we do have a committed and passionate public sector staff up and down the country, who can help us to deliver the changes we need.

Help us to find ways of delivering more for less.

Conclusion

That challenge – delivering more for less – doesn’t finish with the Spending Round.

It will remain a big challenge for this government.

And – no matter the economic circumstances – it should remain a challenge for all future governments.

The challenges to control public spending will continue for many years to come.

And as long as the demography of our population changes.

As long as technology changes.

As long as the climate changes.

Then government – of whatever political colour – needs to reform and adapt to the challenges that those changes bring.

That is exactly what the government has done during this Parliament.

And it is something we will continue to do.

Published 11 July 2013