The leader of one of the civil service’s main unions has attacked the suggestion that public services can be protected through the discovery of new efficiencies in the wake of chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s Autumn Statement.
Prospect general secretary Mike Clancy gave his warning after Office for Budget Responsibility chair Richard Hughes told MPs that “significant” productivity boosts would be required from departments for the government to hit its projected five-year spending targets.
The chancellor has set out an aspiration to increase public-sector productivity by 0.5% a year. But Hughes told members of the Treasury Select Committee yesterday that some departments would need to find whole “percentage points' worth of improvement” in productivity because that was the implied extent of the funding shortfall being faced.
Clancy said it was not credible for ministers to expect departments to find new efficiencies after more than a decade of funding pressure and the result would be the cessation of some vital services.
“Almost 14 years on from the start of austerity it is ludicrous to think that there are significant productivity improvements to be found in those departments that do not have their spending protected,” he said.
“Of course there are always better ways of working but you can’t just pluck a number out of a hat and expect it to happen.
“Unprotected departments are already at breaking point and facing a recruitment and retention crisis. If these ‘savings’ go ahead then the government will have to stop providing some vital services that people rely on, and there is a real risk that civil servants will leave for the private sector in droves.”
Unprotected departments are those that do not benefit from ministerial commitments to maintain or increase funding levels.
The OBR projects that the effects of inflation will mean real-terms cuts of “more than 2%” to the budgets of unprotected departments. The Institute for Fiscal Studies last week put the figure at 3.4%.