Council “Savings” – Lies, damned lies and “research signed off by DCLG”

You may remember the report from Opera Solutions that claimed local authorities in the UK could make savings of £10 billion a year. When we looked at it more carefully, it was based on a  sample of three spend sub-categories in three local authorities, extrapolated on a highly non-scientific basis up across the entire £50 billion sector spend. Amidst claims that the Department for Communities & Local Government (DCLG) had “signed off” the report in some way, the Minister, Eric Pickles, used the report to beat local authorities around the head for their incompetence in finding more savings.

But the Local Government Chronicle has finally established that “There is no record of government statisticians testing controversial research by private-sector consultants before it was endorsed by communities secretary Eric Pickles in a departmental press release”.

Special advisers to the Minister, Giles Kenningham, claimed the research had been signed off by statisticians in the Department for Communities & Local Government. But after the magazine submitted Freedom of Information requests.

“… the department has admitted to LGC that there is no record of any testing of the research. In fact, the involvement of DCLG statisticians appears to go no further than checking that a figure of £10bn would equate to £452 per household as claimed in the press release”.

An honest mistake? Or part of a strategy to paint local authorities as incompetent, money wasting entities and distract attention from the major cuts in the funding they receive from central Government?

And, as we said at the time, a very ill-judged piece of marketing from Opera, who I understand are actually much cleverer than you would think from this incident – being right at the forefront of “big data” analytics. But not a smart way to endear yourselves to potential public sector clients in the UK, guys...

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Voices (3)

  1. Paul Wright:

    As has been pointed out most politicians of whatever flavour are in favour of “policy based evidence gathering” rather than evidence based policies. Coupled with a lack of basic understanding of procurement as an activity we are going to be subject to this for the foreseeable future. As Richard Branson pointed out yesterday most of the politicians (and civil servants) are in different roles when the consequences of their decisions are apparent.

  2. RJ:

    Sadly I fear that the Local Government Chronicle doesn’t have quite the same circulation and readership as the Daily Mail and Express so Mr Pickles’s comments are likely to remain in the minds of voters, who are generally too lazy to test such claims in the way that Ben Goldacre and David Orr do.

  3. David Orr:

    The controversial IBM-led SW1 joint venture in Somerset did exactly the same thing with massively exaggerated savings claims that the Councils (at that time Lib Dem led) appear to have taken ay face value:

    a) SW1 exaggerated the influenceable spend massively with the silly claims for that still up on their glowing web site:

    “One of the main drivers for creating Southwest One was formalised collaboration across the three organisations to radically transform the Procurement Service into a centre of excellence tasked with delivering savings of around £200M over 10 years on a combined annual spend of more than £500m.” Ian Conner, Chief Procurement Officer

    b) Then SW1 must have assumed that an average 30% can be saved – unlikely given that most procurement was either competitively tendered or let under a pre-tendered National framework.

    Nothing like the £200m of savings have been reached almost half way through (more like £5m-7m cashable savings to date).

    In February of this year the Conservative Council Leader Ken Maddock (now standing as a local Police & Crime Commissioner – we wuz robbed Guv!) stated in a public meeting:

    “We are currently looking at all our services and all our contracts to see whether we are doing the best we can for our customers, whether we are providing the best possible services for our customers and at the best possible prices for our customers. I have to say that Southwest One is failing this test”.

    Peter: Why not ask Ian Conner of SW1 (formerly from the renowned business of the Post Office) for a response?

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