Smaller and better?
The Coalition government has talked a great deal about the need to not just save money, but radically change government. How can Whitehall really transform itself into a better, more fit for purpose civil service, while at the same time reduce its spending on a scale not seen since the Second World War?
Our briefing note, 'Smaller and better, Whitehall after the cuts' is the result of our studies of fiscal consolidations around the world, most notably the experiences of Canada and Sweden, and discussions with civil servants in the UK about the challenges that lie ahead for Whitehall.
With the lack of any obvious blueprint for change, our paper opens up this largely untouched discussion on the challenge Whitehall faces in transforming itself in tough times.
This Government has set out an ambitious agenda. It is simultaneously undertaking the largest reduction in UK public spending since at least WW2, introducing major reforms in the biggest spending areas of welfare, health and education, and transforming central government itself in an unprecedented way
The Treasury are committed to removing a third or more from central government’s running costs. The ambition set out by the incoming Conservative government between 1980 and 1984 was to cut civil service numbers by a little over 10%. Although exact comparisons are difficult, it is clear that the current ambition is around three times as stretching in terms of the headline quantum
The key issue is how reductions on this scale are to be achieved. Some successful fiscal consolidations, like Sweden in the 1990s, actively avoided restructuring the centre of government because of the risks involved
The government has created a sense of urgency around the need to change. Everything would suggest something very different to the Yes Minister cliché is occurring (where Sir Humphrey employs 400 extra civil servants to manage an illusionary removal of 800 posts). Departments are preparing to make real reductions in line with the Treasury plans
International and historic examples throw some light on how Whitehall might be transformed. These emphasise the need for strong leadership, a clear vision to guide change and the need to get through difficult decisions quickly
However, as yet there is no clear blueprint for what Whitehall should become. Any new Whitehall could be lined up with David Cameron's vision of the Big Society. Three important themes to look out for in the spending