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.


2 Responses to “Cuts”

  1. 1 christina July 5, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    Yes, and the things that will be sacrificed are the ‘soft’ things like investment in learning, accountability, increased participation and all efforts at working across professional and departmental boundaries. Sacrificed both because they will lose out in terms of investment, as they are easy to cut, and because the cultures and behaviours which will come to the fore, in times of budget reductions, will mean that we go back to unhelpful competition, the blame game and the practice of trying to take the credit whilst shifting costs and risk elsewhere.

    However, if we can see this coming then how do we do something about it? By challenging ourselves to focus on what needs to be preserved and built on because, it is important for all of us, and by working out how to cut colloboratively?

    Or do we just have to sit here and take it?

  2. 2 Nicola Headlam July 11, 2010 at 5:52 pm

    Found you!

    Agree silos look comfy in the aqe of austerity… depressingly.

    Have you seen the young foundation report on innovation which describes the local government “doom loop” Quite up your street.

    My paper on cuts is at

    talk soon


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