Home secretary: spending cuts mean "fewer people, fewer buildings and less room for error"

Theresa May sketches out Home Office vision for the next five years – and confirms that Home Office perm sec Mark Sedwill is reviewing size of the department's central HQ

By Civil Service World

11 Nov 2015

The Home Office is "living proof" that the government can get more for less from public services, Theresa May has said – as the home secretary set out plans for a "slimmer, more flexible" department.

According to the National Audit Office, the Home Office has made real-terms savings of 14.5% since 2010. As an unprotected government department, it is in line for further cuts at the government-wide Spending Review later this month.

In a speech to the Reform think tank this week, May said the department had improved outcomes while cutting spending during the last parliament, and vowed to press ahead with making the Home Office "less bureaucratic and more accessible".

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She said: "Crime is down by more than a quarter, according to the independent Crime Survey for England and Wales. Public confidence in the police has remained strong. And police officers are now more likely to be deployed in front line roles – like neighbourhood policing or patrol – than at any other time in modern policing history."

The home secretary pointed to a "quiet revolution" in policing accountability with the introduction of elected police and crime commissioners, as well as a rise in the number of "hate preachers" excluded from the UK, and the introduction of new digital services at HM Passport Office as achievements that had come about "not despite spending cuts but because of them".

And, while she heaped praise on the department's "smart, dedicated" officials, she said the Home Office had had to undergo a cultural shift in the last five years to ensure a focus on reform.

"When I first arrived at the Home Office in 2010 what I found – in almost every part of its business – was a culture, a set of systems, an institutional framework that held officials back and prevented them from delivering for citizens, partners and taxpayers," she said.

"What the last five years have shown most powerfully is how reform can not only make savings for the taxpayer, but also radically improve outcomes for the public."

May said the next five years of austerity would see a "profound change" for Home Office staff.

"There is no escaping the fact that spending reductions may lead to there being fewer people, fewer buildings and less room for error," she told the think tank. "But the changes we will make will improve what we do and how we do it by using better technology, individual discretion and greater organisation flexibility, flatter structures and clearer accountability – and, above all, a strong sense of purpose."

May confirmed that the department's permanent secretary Mark Sedwill had begun work on a "comprehensive review" of the Home Office's Marsham street headquarters, with a view to ensuring that "the top of the organisation is slimmer, more flexible and better able to provide the leadership required".

And May vowed to give staff greater autonomy while focusing on improving the department's diversity record, with the home secretary saying she was "committed to embedding a better culture" there.

"In the past, we have been too accepting of a mentality which is closed to external ideas and a bureaucracy that hinders our ability to deliver," May said.

"So I will give officials greater discretion over how they do their jobs and introduce greater flexibility in how resources are used across the department.

"And we will support greater diversity. Because while the Home Office has a proud record on diversity, and nearly a quarter of staff are currently black or minority ethnic, it remains the case that hardly any senior civil servants are from BME backgrounds.

"So we must go further, through initiatives like blind recruitment, which the prime minister recently announced – to set the example for police forces, our agencies and our suppliers that we must represent the people we serve."

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