When I was appointed Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office, a couple of years before the last General Election, I set about honing our approach to tackling wasteful government spending.
It was great to start implementing those plans when the Coalition Government was formed and one of the first things I did was set up the Cabinet Office’s Efficiency and Reform Group (ERG). The thinking was that Whitehall needed to operate in a more business-like way and the ERG started to apply spending controls to cut departmental expenditure on, among other things, IT contracts, property, marketing, temporary staff and consultancy.
It was incredibly pleasing when the work of the ERG could be quantified – in 2010-11 we saved £3.75bn and I was delighted to be able to announce earlier this month that last year, another £5.5bn was saved for the taxpayer.
To add some detail, £1bn was saved on consultancy contracts and spending; £390m from freezing marketing spending; £200m by exiting unnecessary properties and £1.5bn was saved by reducing the size of the Civil Service via stronger controls on non-essential recruitment.
The savings are the equivalent to around £500 per working household in Britain, the salaries of around 250,000 junior nurses and the cost of around 1.6m primary school places.
In these times of departmental and family belt-tightening, these savings are vital. The fact that such significant amounts were saved by freezing marketing, for example, begs the question of why things weren’t changed before the 2010 election?
Taxpayers’ money really was being wasted on unnecessary consultancy, wasteful marketing and under-used property leases but our controls are paying dividends and I’m absolutely determined that they will become a permanent feature of good governance.
Achieving these figures has been one of the most satisfying parts of my political career – we really are making a difference by applying some fairly common sense rule changes.
A few years ago, I never would have thought it possible to become passionate about government procurement but when you find yourself putting an end to the bonkers situation where different government departments and agencies pay wildly differing amounts for light bulbs, photocopying paper and IT services, it’s easy to become enthusiastic.
So, we’re in this fight against waste and unnecessary spending for the long-haul – we’ll keep making savings for the tax-payer.