Concerns over Whitehall's ability to manage a decade of austerity

The UK faces an unprecedented decade of spending cuts as the Government tries to achieve a budget surplus by 2020. A new paper tells Whitehall how to manage further cuts.

The PM promised spending on the NHS, pensions, schools, defence and aid would be protected. This means other services – such as police, courts, prisons, childcare, further education, social care and transport – will face serious cuts. 

‘Managing with less: the 2015 Spending Review’, a new report from the Institute for Government, outlines six ways Ministers and departments need to manage the cuts. It argues that reductions were easier in 2010, whereas now each Secretary of State will face tough decisions about priorities, made harder by unrealistic targets (such as doubling exports by 2020), and 517 new Conservative manifesto commitments. Monday’s announcement of four small spending settlements only emphasises the difficulty of these decisions.

The report says plans to make savings by bringing in new public service providers must take account of previous failures, from G4S offender tagging to the recent Kids Company scandal. Likewise, attempts to save money by digitising services must not repeat mistakes such as those made with Universal Credit and rural payments.

Daniel Thornton, report author, said:

“The Chancellor wants to ‘do more with less’, but less money means doing less. There is a real risk that Whitehall will not implement spending reductions properly, and we are concerned that increased pressures on services will lead to more frequent failures.

“If Ministers want to do this right, they need to stop rather than delay expensive projects. Civil servants must also get better at managing digital services and outsourced contracts.”

There are six ways Ministers and civil servants can make cuts sensibly:

  1. Secretaries of State must publish a short list of priorities and realistic targets. 
  2. Ministers must reprioritise major projects – this means stopping those which are de-prioritised, rather than suffering costly delays. 
  3. Civil service leadership must get better at managing voluntary and private sector contracts.
  4. The Treasury must stay involved in devolution deals to ensure the success of decentralisation in England.
  5. The centre of Whitehall must take responsibility for setting standards and maintaining momentum on digital government.
  6. Ministers must reform functions before culling quangos.

The Institute for Government will use the recommendations as a framework to measure the Government’s effectiveness in implementing the Spending Review, revisiting them in the New Year to assess progress.

For more information, please contact Nicole Valentinuzzi on 07850313791.

Notes to editors

  1. The full ‘Managing with Less: the 2015 Spending Review’ report can be found here: (post-embargo). The authors are available for interview.
  2. The Institute for Government is an independent charity founded in 2008 to help make government more effective.
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