Spending Review: DWP permanent secretary Robert Devereux "confident" department can get more for less

DWP perm sec heaps praise on the department's operations team for finding efficiencies, while acknowledging staff can't "just pedal faster forever"

By Civil Service World

28 Oct 2015

Robert Devereux has said he is "very confident" that the Department for Work and Pensions can improve its services in the face of a fresh round of cuts at the Spending Review.

The DWP is among those departments that have been asked by the Treasury to model reductions to their resource budgets of between 25% and 40%. According to the National Audit Office, the department has already cut its administrative and programme spending by 18% since 2010, with headcount down 23% on 2011 levels.

The DWP's permanent secretary told MPs on Tuesday that, while it was unlikely his department would "end up with more money" at the end of the Spending Review process, his staff had already become adept at reducing duplication across the department.

DWP failed to consider welfare reform risks, says spending watchdog
Departments don't understand impact of cuts, says National Audit Office chief Amyas Morse​
HMRC and DWP have shown “paucity of ambition” on tackling fraud and error, MPs say
What does the government's vision for a smarter state mean for public services?

"From my perspective, trying to take an organisation of this size through a big change, I do think there are material things happening in the processing, in the technological support for that processing, which actually means we can make substantial savings and still deliver better services," he said.

Devereux pointed to a recent 4% uptick in customer satisfcation with Jobseeker's Allowance, saying the DWP had shown it was possible to both "process more cheaply" and improve services. "There is a virtuous circle going on here," he added.

Neither Devereux or work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith would be drawn on reports that the department is pushing back against implementing cuts at the upper end of the Treasury's savings target.

Duncan Smith said: "First of all, I never comment on reports that are run in the papers, strangely enough. But my general view about this is that there is always a balance in these things. I think this is a matter that is accepted by the government across the board, including the Treasury."

And Devereux heaped praise on the department's operations group, which he said had helped to highlight areas where the DWP could streamline its processes and share ideas with colleagues.

"We've benefited in one sense from the recovery in the economy which means we've got fewer people in Jobcentres because the caseload has reduced," the DWP perm sec said. "But the attention to detail that my ops colleagues have had, in making sure that the best practice in office number one is translated into office number 21, that actually people do things once rather than doing them multiple times, is paying very significant dividends.

"More particularly, it's strongly in the culture of the the way operations group is being run – people expect to have comparisons made and lessons learned... We're constantly taking things out of the process and making it work more smoothly."

He also defended the department's increasing use of temporary staff, saying it was appropriate to take on officials for "targeted" short-term posts even when overall DWP staffing was falling.

"We're doing two things: the general trend of staffing in the department is going down," he said.

"It has been going down. When I first came across the department we had 160,000 staff. When I took over [as perm sec] it had 110,000. Today we've got 74,000 staff. It will be lower still in the future...

"It's not sensible for me to recruit more permanent staff knowing that the work won't be there in two years. So we're trying to make targeted interventions, taking on those people that we need in particular areas, conscious that the general trend of staffing will be down."

Devereux said he understood concerns that staff could not "just pedal faster forever" – but said officials in the department had so far done "done exceptionally well" in coping with spending reductions at the same time as embarking on a major programme of welfare reform.

Share this page