In the background to the budget and subject to discussion since have been proposals for efficiencies in the public sector. Sir Michael Bichard and others undertook a review of the potential for savings across government and at a local level through more collaborative working (http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/vfm_operational_efficiency.htm). Much of it reads like so many reports written in the past thirty years. History suggests the ‘potential’ savings identified will be hard to realise. But nobody asks the key questions. Why has it been so difficult in the past? What makes anyone think it will happen this time?
There is one interesting proposal: the idea of Total Place – the mapping of public spending at a local level for all public agencies and departments. An exercise in Cumbria identified spending of more than £7bn in the county. When viewed in those terms, the failures of public services seem less associated with a lack of resources and more about what is done with them. Of that £7bn, a large proportion is committed to infrastructure etc, but the possibilility of avoiding overlaps and using the money more effectively is an attractive one that has been argued for for some time (twenty and more years). But again, why has it not worked before? Have the technical difficulties been overcome? Is there the authority, leadership and capacity at a local level to do anything with the information? Without wishing to be unduly pessimistic, I remain to be convinced.