Rees-Mogg urges departments to 'accelerate' cost-cutting drive as £3.4bn in efficiency savings reported

Jacob Rees-Mogg calls for cost-cutting drive to be accelerated and pledges to set targets for departments
Photo: 70023venus2009/Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

By Jim Dunton

30 Mar 2022

The Cabinet Office has published new cross-government efficiency data from the last financial year, revealing gains of £3.4bn and fulfilling a call from Francis Maude to resume reporting on pan-Whitehall savings.

Government efficiency minister Jacob Rees-Mogg said the scale of figures demonstrated what could be achieved, but called for an acceleration of cost-cutting and pledged to set targets for departments to achieve at the same time as maintaining service quality.

The £3.4bn figure,  which relates to 2020-21, includes £1.8bn saved by reducing losses to fraud and debt, and £1.4bn in savings attributed to “improved buying decisions”.

The Cabinet Office said its Debt Market Integrator programme had reclaimed £373m in public funds by streamlining departments’ access to debt-collection services, while more effective use of digital services had saved £142m across government.

Data matching helped crack down on fraudulent tax discount claims and identify improper PPE contracts for termination, saving more than £138m. More than £10m of disabled-badge fraud was also picked up, as well as around £7m in illegal housing benefit claims.

The Cabinet Office said its Central Digital and Data Office, which came into being last year and advises departments on best practice for using digital and data services, had played a key role in reducing £137m of spending on digital services. Procurement experts drove more than £1bn in savings by ensuring departments pool resources to buy goods and services.

Rees-Mogg welcomed the savings but called on officials to double down on the efficiency drive.

“Taxpayers have the right to expect every penny of their money to be justified before it’s spent,” he said.

“These figures show quality need not be sacrificed to achieve better value for money, and I want to accelerate the progress made.

“We are ensuring the civil service is delivering the government’s top priorities while ensuring the best possible value for taxpayers.”

He added that to cut costs further, departments would be required to set targets that measure their ability to achieve the highest standard of public service while reducing spend.

Chief secretary to the Treasury Simon Clarke said chancellor Rishi Sunak’s new cabinet-level efficiency and value for money committee would leave no stone unturned in its scrutiny of government spending to make sure taxpayers were getting the most for their money.

Resuming the publication of cross-government efficiency savings was one of the recommendations of Lord Maude’s review of the cross-cutting functions and the operation of spend controls, published last year.

Savings figures were published on an annual basis between 2010 and 2015, but subsequently stopped. Maude said the figures should be released on the same basis as they had been before, and data for the intervening years should also be published.

His report also recommended the creation of a cabinet sub-committee on efficiency and transformation to be co-chaired by the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the chief secretary to the Treasury, with the minister for efficiency and transformation also participating as a member.

Former minister for efficiency and transformation Lord Theodore Agnew quit government in January in protest at what he described as failings on the part of the Treasury and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy relating to fraud in Covid loan schemes for businesses.

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