When the Chancellor (pictured above) sits down after delivering his Spending Review speech tomorrow it will mark the end of a process which has been unusually tough – both politically and financially. It will also be the beginning of another process which promises to be harder still: re-imagining services and organisational structures to actually deliver the savings set out in his speech.
The savings already announced are challenging on their own: the average budget settlement so far is reported to be a 21% saving over the next five years. What makes the challenge so great, however, is that these announcements come after many years of austerity – departments have already made easy efficiencies as well as reducing headcount to its lowest level since the Second World War. And departments must make these savings at the same time as re-imagining services to meet the needs of a changing population with new expectations of government and its services.
This last challenge, however, also presents an important opportunity. We all know the benefits of digital transformation to deliver more responsive, more effective and efficient services. Digitisation can also deliver significant savings, but it must be done correctly, with due thought to future-proofing and creative thinking about how to adapt or renew existing infrastructure to fit new models of service provision.
The good news is that civil service engagement, and their commitment to their jobs, remains steady despite years of reform and savings. As Jeremy Heywood wrote in a recent blog, this is testament to the “resilience and professionalism of civil servants” as well as their dedication to public service.
Despite dedication and professionalism – much admired all over the world - departments acknowledge that significant capability gaps remain across government: something which the Civil Service Skills strategy has begun to address these gaps but if government is to meet the immediate challenges of this Spending Review it cannot wait for a long- or medium-term plan to bear fruit. Officials must work more closely with industry now to creatively share knowledge and capability which will allow departments to re-imagine and reform, rather than simply cut, their operations and services.
The priority, however, must be for departments to finally accomplish what many have called for but few have achieved: collaborating across organisational boundaries. This might be to streamline a service around citizen needs rather than departmental objectives; it might be to join up back office and front line services in a way that delivers real savings and process efficiencies.
We know these 'are 'Good Things'; we talk about them often and dissect the obstacles which prevent true joined-up working. Now, however, facing cuts on a scale and of a duration which is unprecedented in modern government and with limited appetite for any significant structural change,, it is time to make these 'Good Things' a reality.. I won't say we should stop talking, for open discussions and good communication will be vital to achieving this collaboration. We must continue to 'talk the talk', but we must push past the obstacles and finally walk the walk of joined-up government.
Our post-Spending Review webinar is intended to help departments do just this. We'll be taking a deep look at the specific challenges set out in the Chancellors speech and starting conversations about how departments – individually and together – can meet those challenges. It promises to be an excellent opportunity to share expertise and re-imagine services with colleagues across government and beyond, but I hope it will be much more than that. We will consider the webinar a true success if the conversations begun there translate into real action, creative solutions and new partnerships which help government to meet the challenges of 2015 head on.
KPMG & CSW's Post Spending Review webinar will take place on 10 December at 3.30pm
Click here to register