My speech from the Guardian Conference - Northern Ireland 09
Delivering in the downturn: driving efficiency, securing cost savings and expanding services through the innovative use of ICT - A big topic for someone to cover in 5 minutes but for someone originally from the West of Scotland it should allow for about 10,000 words.
The challenge we face: With public borrowing reaching £175b this year and due to slowly fall over the next 4 years to £97b then it is inevitable that public sector spending is going to fall. In real terms this could mean budget cuts of anything between 6% and 15% over this period. If we are going to continue to deliver effective public services then it means changing the way we do things.
The good news is the Government see the sector you work in as the answer to this huge economic problem. All things electronic and digital are now in vogue when it comes to transformation and efficiency. The day before this year’s budget the chancellor received a report from 5 gurus, called the Operational Efficiency Programme, which places the responsibility of saving the U.K. economy from financial Armageddon in the hands of I.T. managers. I looked out of my office window at Joe, APSEs 24 year old I.T. manager, with his hair flowing beyond his shoulders, glasses and motorhead t-shirt and thought an unlikely hero - but I am willing to believe.
The OEP suggests back office cuts of £4b in 3 years or 20 to 25% of current expenditure. Plus a further £3b by benchmarking and reviews. Then a further £7.7b of savings by joint procurement of I.T., goods and services by 2013/14.
Now some of you may be starting to think of me as a cynic by this point but this is not the case. I have seen the massive progress made by introducing technology in the sector I work in, local government, over the past 5 or 10 years as a result of APSEs annual service awards and our work generally.
I have seen one stop shops introduced to make services more accessible and more co-ordinated for citizens.
I have seen housing repairs improved by using handheld technology to cut the steps in the service delivery chain from 13 to 4 or 5.
I have seen refuse collection and recycling services improved dramatically by the use of handhelds, mobile tracking and monitoring aids and this has helped achieve 50%recycling in some areas.
And in this particular area it points to another great challenge that I.C.T. can help meet, climate change. I believe that the impact of the carbon reduction commitment will focus many people’s minds on service redesign or they will face the financial consequences.
It is not only in my sector that I see the electronic transformation taking place. I recently read some figures about the Department of Work and Pensions where they are claiming £50m of savings already, rising to £100m.
13m people are now buying car tax online.
2.7m have now booked a driving test online.
15m people per month are using Directgov online.
And 10 people per second are filing a tax return online - you would think somebody should have told our MPs that it’s not that difficult.
Before I get too carried away, one plea please, to not forget those who are technologically excluded. I was at a recent dinner with the Chair of Consumerwatch Scotland who pointed out that 40% of citizens don’t own computers. So let’s not exclude unintentionally some of those who need public services the most.
Some of the answers must lie in joined up and better co-ordinated public services. The Total Place project in England at present identified that Cumbria spends £7b across its public services and I believe that the boundaries within the sector will disappear and shared services will become the norm.
The 32 London Boroughs are also working on an ongoing basis on a 5 year plan to share services and procure supplies more effectively. They aim to this by redeploying staff and using natural wastage to avoid any unnecessary redundancies.
In conclusion, I guess the future depends on whether you are a glass half full or a glass half empty type of person. Of course we face massive financial and economic challenges but we also have an opportunity to revolutionise public service delivery. In my view it’s a challenge those of us in public services must embrace from within. Personally the alternative of mass outsourcing and swingeing cuts to services isn’t that palatable to me for one.
Thanks for listening.
A half hour debate then followed between a panel of four of us and the 170 strong audience.