Thursday 21 May 2009
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.
Saturday 16 May 2009
Spend a couple of days in London at a variety of events and meetings.
Attend a Fabian event on the future of local government at parliament where local government Minister John Healey speaks along with Simon Jenkins from the Guardian. It quickly turns into a debate about localism and whilst it's all interesting I started to think that I have been hearing the same arguments over and over again for the last 15 years. And I think some progress has been made with devolution to Scotland, England, Wales, Northern Ireland and London. However my mind starts to drift to the fact that there may be some more urgent priorities facing local government at present.
I go over to the MJ and meet the Editor and Deputy Editor, Michael and Heather for a catch up. This weeks edition has already gone so we exit to the pub for a chat, where I wax lyrical about how local authorities can deliver business process reengineering themselves without bringing in external help. I should have known better the next day I receive an email from Heather asking for 700 words on the subject for the next edition.
The following day I attend a rountable discussion with the Centre for Public Service Partnerships and Unison on 'Public Service Partnerships and the Workforce'. It was Chatam house rules so I can't really say to much but I put forward points about a lack of uniformity of approach to the workforce by contractors, how we need joint monitoring on agreements that are in place, that we need research in this area and that we need to understand local economic value rather than just looking at cost.
The event was chaired by John Tizzard and Dave Prentis of Unison made an opening contribution. It was good to have such heavy hitting representatives of the private and public sector together and it brought an interesting dynamic to the discussion.
It was a lively discussion and
I think it is one which will run for a bit.
Saturday 09 May 2009
Attend APSEs annual transport and refuse seminar at Aviemore for a few days this week. It's always a great opportunity to get together with this sector of local government in Scotland. We run a massive exhibition along side the conference and it's always well attended.
Despite the 6 hour train journey each way the event was enjoyable and it was good to meet up with colleagues who I have known for many years.
Colin Mair the Chief Executive of the Scottish Improvement Agency did a useful talk outlining some of the huge financial challenges faced by public services in the coming years with a demand for £32b of services in a few years time with likely funding of £26 to £28b available meaning up to a 15% real terms budget cut.
I have got to say that I disagreed with Colin's conclusion that we should progress with pursuing alternative service delivery mechanisms despite the fact that they are untested and unproven. He agrees with me however that a job of work is required to examine any available tangible evidence of performance of different models.