Quote of the week

“The job we have here is to try to either incentivise them or enforce reductions in areas that we think the general public would support.” 

— Ian Watmore

Editor’s Corner

It is one thing to announce an aggressive social and administrative change agenda. The larger challenge is to make the changes happen.  

For the U.K. government’s Big Society agenda, that job has been given to Ian Watmore, the Permanent Secretary who is the Chief Operating Officer of the Efficiency and Reform Group in the Cabinet Office.

Watmore says the government is pursuing a “nuanced approach” where departments have to deliver a 33% administrative budget cut against varying degrees of reduction for the specific programs they deliver. For example, the Department of Health has been expected to cut its budget while the National Health Service remains protected. 

Watmore adds that there are a “variety of control ways that we’ve done … to try to make sure that the departments take the costs out of things that don’t matter to the public and spend the money on things that do matter to the public, like healthcare and education.” 

Rather like the government of Canada’s Treasury Board subcommittee that is overseeing the federal Deficit Reduction Action Plan, the U.K. government has political oversight with a Public Expenditure Committee of ministers driven by the Treasury. There is one significant change from the Canadian approach: to encourage ministers to act, once a department settled, its minister then joined the committee to oversee his or her peers. The goal was to make ministers part of the reviewing group rather than disengaged individuals who were trying to trade their own positions against the rest of the system. 

Watmore believes government has to do things differently: “One of my challenges for the system is not how you achieve more for less, but how you achieve better for less. It’s quite inconceivable to me that we can cut a budget by a third and then expect people to do more than they were already doing before. We have to ask them to do it differently.”

This month, CGE will have a special supplement on the U.K. Big Society, thanks to the generosity of KPMG.