This is all anybody is talking about in the public sector at the moment, to the extent that it has driven out any discussion of innovation and change that I can detect. However, faced with 40% cuts, something more than cutting down on photocopying is required.
You can imagine the scenes in Whitehall. Each department will be preparing their special pleadings. Research discussed on the news this morning suggested that the public though the international development should not be protected. Health, education and defence have made their cases. What of the millions spent supporting business – is there a case to be made for this? Pretty soon, we are left with cuts from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and from Work and Pensions. The budget for the last of these, though, will only increase as unemployment will continue to rise, lagging as it tends to behind the economic recovery and aggravated by the very same public sector cuts.
Those told they must still meet their 40% target will then prepare the unpalatable options – reduced frontline provision. They will do this to demonstrate the political consequences of the cuts in the hope of bartering for more resources. These are the old tricks, but they are coming out now.
How quickly do public managers, as we have come to think of them over the past twenty years, revert to type, behaving as the archetypal self-interested bureaucrats of Yes Minister and as described in the analysis of the public choice school of thinking. But under pressure to deliver savings in short timescales, what else is one to do? Without room for innovation, without the possibility of investment in change as a process, and a costly one at that, game playing will tend to dominate. Or, at least, that is my hunch.