Pre Budget Report – no, it’s interesting, really it is….

I have been struggling to come up with any insightful comment about this week’s  pre –Budget Report, so apologies for the lack of immediate topicality here.  But after some reflection...

More savings to come, but with lack of clarity about the ‘how’, tough times for public sector workers, consultants... (and is it about time we pointed out that consultants in the public sector have actually done some really quite useful stuff? Along with some much less useful and very expensive stuff as well...)

One interesting point was the creation of a new body, Infrastructure UK, combining parts of the Treasury and Partnerships UK.  It will be charged with the task of advising the Government on priorities for long-term national infrastructure investment, and will develop a strategy for national infrastructure to provide a long term vision ..Interesting to see some more detail, but strikes me as a good idea; given the state of the public finances, it seems  likely that there will need to be private funding of some sort if anything big is going to get built over the next few years!

The other point is around the efficiency savings projected.  Over the past few years, it didn’t matter quite so much if declared efficiency savings were ‘real’.  Money was available to provide services, so they were protected even if efficiencies were a bit flaky.  But now budgets are being cut, real efficiency savings where they are made will directly help to protect services; if they are not real, that will be very obvious.  Procurement Directors claiming to have saved billions while front line staff are laid off and services are slashed will be met by ridicule. As Stephanie Flanders of the BBC put it:

“That is why the next round of efficiency savings will be a bit different than the ones that came before. Unlike the previous ones, they won't be about getting more value for money out of an expanding budget pie. They'll be about making the shrinking of the pie less painful for frontline services than it might otherwise be”.

So the next few years are going to be a critical test for public procurement.  The investment of the last few years, all the new senior level CPOs  appointed, all the expensive consulting assignments in category management and ‘transformation’; have they paid off?  Can procurement help make the coming cuts less devastating to citizens and public service workers?  Or will we be exposed as charlatans, who, when it came to the real crunch, could do very little in terms of delivering real benefits and value?  I do hope not, but we will see.....

Peter Smith

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