"Good governments are always looking to reform" says Chief Secretary to the Treasury David Gauke
Speaking to think tank Reform, Chief Secretary to the Treasury David Gauke addressed improving government efficiency and encouraging innovation.
Value of Reform
It’s great to see so many of you here today and I think that’s a reflection of the huge value we all see in the work Reform does.
For over a decade, it’s been front and centre in thinking about how we deliver more for less, how we deliver quality in our public services, and how we deliver genuine value for money.
There was a time when the debate on public services seemed somewhat simplistic.
Because there were those who focused just on how much money we put into our services – as if spending is a virtue in itself.
Others showed commendable enthusiasm for protecting the interests of taxpayers, but insufficient interest in improving public services.
But Reform has always taken an approach which recognises the central importance of both protecting the interests of taxpayers, and seeking to deliver world-class public services.
That’s an approach I’ve always looked to apply too in my 6 years as a spending Minister, which I was as the relevant Minister for HMRC.
And it’s an approach I’m delighted to have the opportunity to apply in a much broader sense now as the Chief Secretary to the Treasury.
So I will without doubt continue to engage closely in the work Reform does over the coming years.
And I hope, and expect, it will be a source of inspiration and education as I get to grips with some of the spending and efficiency challenges we face across government.
Early signs of efficiency from the new government are encouraging.
We managed to cut the time it took to get a new Prime Minister in place - from a couple of months to a couple of days.
We’ve cut our Ministerial headcount at the Treasury by a sixth.
And I’m being as efficient as possible, in my first week as Chief Secretary, by coming here to talk to a room packed to the brim with expertise from across the public sector and beyond.
I know we’ve got representatives here from all kinds of public services - local councils, hospitals, fire brigades, central government departments – you name it.
Well I’ve always been a big believer in making sure you listen to the people who know best. And it’s great to get the opportunity to do that today.
Always Time for Good Government
It’s certainly a well-timed opportunity.
We’ve got quite a new ministerial team in place – and they’ll be bringing fresh eyes to the way their organisations work.
It’s an opportunity to step back and ask the fundamental questions.
Like what scope is there for reforming the way we work?
How can we save teams time, money or effort?
And how can we really get the machinery of this government firing on all cylinders?
Now these are questions that good governments should ask all the time – whatever the economic circumstances may be.
That’s the spirit of constant innovation we should embrace.
It’s what drives our best businesses forward.
And it’s what drives our best governments forward too.
Time to put our house in order
But now, more than ever, we’ve got a real incentive to get to work.
Because we’re now, undeniably, facing more challenging economic conditions than we were this time last month.
That shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone – whatever side of the EU referendum debate you were on.
There was general consensus that we would experience economic turbulence in the event of a decision to leave.
We will do all that we can to manage that.
And thanks to the hard work of public sector workers across government, we are better placed than we would otherwise be, with more efficient public services and sounder public finances.
We have been fixing the roof while the sun was shining.
And now is definitely the right moment, to go out, find and seize new opportunities to get our organisations in top working order.
Now we announced in the last Budget that we would be taking forward an efficiency drive across government.
And that’s something that’s right at the top of my priorities as the new Chief Secretary in charge of managing public spending wisely.
It’s something I have already highlighted with my ministerial colleagues.
But let me be clear, this will be a different kind of exercise to the times when we’ve needed to make in-year cuts.
This is our chance to be really strategic about the reforms we take forward over the course of this Parliament.
I’m not expecting it to be easy.
Making a difference takes will from the top.
And work at every level.
That’s why the Treasury will be teaming up with the Cabinet Office to help each and every government body search out the further reforms we ought to be making.
I don’t want to prejudge at this point where we’ll find new efficiencies.
But what I do know now, is that with the quality of people we have working in the public sector, we’ve got the wherewithal to make further reforms a success.
Belief in the Public Sector
I’ve felt immensely privileged to work in this government for the last 6 years.
Because in that time, I’ve been constantly impressed by the passion and dedication you see time and again in our public servants.
And I’ve yet to meet the public sector worker who would want to see tax payer money squandered needlessly – perhaps that’s particularly the case for the people I’ve met across Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs who’ve worked so hard to get the revenues up in the first place!
But I am deeply convinced that people across public bodies all feel the same way about the need to make the best use of the money we have.
Because wherever we’re wasting money, we’re not spending it on the things that matter – the things that change people’s lives.
And let me give you a telling example of how enthusiastic and keen public servants are to make sure we use the resources we have sensibly.
Because last summer, we launched a challenge to people across organisations, to tell us what efficiencies we should make.
And we got a huge response back, we were getting about 1000 responses a day.
And they pointed out some clear ways we could work better.
From Companies House not only saving a million pounds, but making life easier for our businesses, by turning to digital communications, rather than the postal system it had always operated under.
Or the suggestion to phase out paper pay slips in government departments - which could save half a million pounds a year.
Wider Spending Cuts
And I also want to pay tribute to the can do attitude and resolve of civil servants across the country to help deliver the savings and efficiencies we’ve needed to put our economy on a stable footing.
People have worked immensely hard to not only make their savings, but make their services better too. Look at the introduction of the gov.uk website.
This took a lot of effort – as over 300 agencies and government organisations consolidated over 685 websites onto a single platform.
Not only helping the general public by providing a one stop shop for government information. But saving over £60 million pounds in the process.
Look at the changes we’ve made to things like the Carer’s Allowance, where we moved the service online and scrapped around 170 questions from the application process.
Or brought in similar digital processes to help people register to vote, make a lasting power of attorney, or book a prison visit.
Together, these not only improved those services, but saved us millions of pounds.
We’ve also been reforming the government estate – selling the space we don’t need – an area bigger than the entire state of Monaco - to generate almost £2 billion in capital receipts.
And – a final example – and if you’ll forgive my bias, one in the tax sphere.
But I’ve been really proud of the hugely ambitious reforms the people at HMRC have been getting on with to make this country one of the most digitally advanced tax authorities in the world.
At the end of last year for example, we introduced the personal tax account – an online service to help make it as easy as possible for people to pay their taxes in the modern world.
We’ve already got 3 million people already using the digital accounts we’ve launched on any device – PC, tablet or smartphone.
This shift not only improves HMRC’s customer service, but will change the way it works by automating its most straightforward processes – in many cases removing the need for people to ring up or write to HMRC at all and therefore helping HMRC bring down the costs significantly.
So there are always ways we can improve.
Ways we can be more efficient.
And ways we can provide better value for money.
That’s something that should never change – whatever the government, whatever the state of the economy. The public will always expect it.
And if I know the Treasury, we will always be demanding it.
But we should be proud of what we’ve all achieved so far.
And we should be confident that we’ve got the talent, the skills and the will across the Public Sector to keep making some really significant reforms and savings in the future.
And with your help, I’m looking forward to playing my own part in doing so.