John Manzoni has shed more light on the "Single Departmental Plans" (SDPs) that Whitehall will be expected to work towards in the run-up to November's government-wide Spending Review.
Earlier this month, chancellor George Osborne confirmed that planning for the Spending Review – which will seek to make £20bn-worth of cuts to departmental budgets by 2020 – would involve departments modeling reductions of 25% and 40% to their resource spending.
A Treasury document published on the same day as Osborne's announcement confirmed that new SDPs will now be required from departments "to ensure resources are being matched to government priorities".
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Civil service chief executive John Manzoni said this week that the plans will aim to bring together "efficiency, spending round and activity plans" into one a "single, clear roadmap" to help departments better manage tight resources.
"Crucially, since SDPs are completely aligned with the Spending Review, they will enable us to bring together inputs (especially funding) with outputs – thus making clear the trade-offs and choices,” he wrote on GOV.UK. “If we do them well, they will show the choices we must make to ensure we can deliver what we promise over the next period."
It is not yet clear whether the new plans will replace the existing departmental "Business Plans" launched under the coalition government – which track progress against specific policy aims – or the annual "Departmental Improvement Plans" setting out steps to improve the running of departments.
But the civil service chief exec said the new approach would aim to better integrate decisions made by departments with Whitehall's shared functions, such as human resources, commercial and IT.
"This means that the technology, commercial, workforce, and similar enablers aren’t an after-thought but instead are helping to deliver the outcomes the departments need, and sharing ideas across government," Manzoni said.
"We need to make sure we set ourselves up to operate over the medium term as efficiently as possible, and hence avoid short term cost cutting actions which may make it even harder in the future."
The move towards SDPs has been given a cautious welcome by the Chartered Institute for Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA), the professional body for public sector finance staff.
“An outcomes based focus will encourage more cross departmental working, more effective prioritisation between policy areas and greater value for money in service delivery,” a CIPFA spokesperson told CSW.
“This is especially important given the current fiscal challenges and tightening of public sector budgets. However, this cross-functional approach will be severely limited while areas such as education, health and defence remain ring-fenced.”