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UK Gov Spending Challenge: “Help us get more for less”

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Earlier today, UK Prime Minister David Cameron kicked off a consultation exercise on ways to reduce government spending. Together with Nick Clegg he has written to public service workers asking them to share their ideas on where to make spending cuts.

A Spending Challenge website has been launched to solicit suggestions from Britain’s 6 million public sector workers. The challenge states that “Every single idea will be considered and the best ones taken forward by departments, the Treasury and the Cabinet Office”. Ideas will be analysed through a five step process:

  1. All ideas considered by cross-government team
  2. Serious ideas go to ‘champions’ team in Cabinet Office/Treasury
  3. Most promising ideas sent to departments and Treasury spending teams to be worked up
  4. Selected ideas reviewed by Ministers
  5. Spending Review announced October 20th

The rational for the challenge is laid out in Cameron’s letter:

The biggest challenge our country faces is dealing with our huge debts – and that means we have to reduce public spending.

Reducing public spending will require innovative and challenging ideas, best developed by those working on the frontline of public services:

We want you to help us find those savings, so we can cut public spending in a way that is fair and responsible. You work on the frontbench of public services. You know where things are working well, where the waste is, and where we can re-think things so that we get better services for less money.

[…] Don’t hold back. Be innovative, be radical, challenge the way things are done. Every serious idea will be considered: by government departments, by the Treasury, by our teams in Number 10 and the Cabinet Office – and passed to Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee to make sure we don’t miss anything.

While the website states the government “will look at every single idea that comes in”, however, there is no guarantee any of the suggestions will make it through to the final Spending Review report in October. This will set detailed spending plans, with budget cuts of up to 25% over four years for many government departments.

The Spending Challenge will be opened to the general public from 9 July. A summary of all submissions will be published later this year.

Partner with Wikileaks

The Spending Challenge site will also monitor social media as a means of fulfilling its mandate to find innovative ideas for saving money. This represents a recognition that some of the most “out of the box” suggestions may be outlined by on blogs and forums, rather than a newly created government website:

Although this process allows you to submit ideas anonymously, we respect the fact that some people will not want to contribute directly to a government website.  As part of this exercise, we will monitor a range of blogs, social networks, forums and also http://wikileaks.org.

Save Award similarities

The UK Spending Challenge has many similarities to the Obama Administration’s SAVE (Securing Americans Value and Efficiency) Award. On launching last year’s competition President Obama called for “a process through which every government worker can submit their ideas for how their agency can save money and perform better.”

David Cameron’s recognition that public sector workers often have the best ideas was outlined by Jeffrey Zients, chief performance officer and deputy director for management in the Office of Management and Budget, when he said it was important to listen to the voices of those on the front lines:

In the government and in the private sector, it is often those in the front lines that have the best ideas and who know the most… We are looking for ideas that save money, improves the way the government operates by lowering costs, simplifying processes, streamlining processes, getting rid of unnecessary red tape and that has an impact on citizens’ lives. It could be a wide range of ideas.

The competition was seen as a success with over 38,000 ideas being submitted in the three weeks of the competition. Given this, the SAVE Award was turned into an annual event with President Obama issuing his own “spending challenge” to government workers:

I’ve issued a challenge to every man and woman who works for the federal government:  If you see a way that government could do its job better, or do the same job for less money, I want to know about it

Saving through Open Source

The twitter reaction to the launch of the new site has been generally positive. The initiative is one of the latest examples of the coalition seeking to harnessing the collective ideas and experience of those working outside of central government.

As a nod to this the website itself is based on a WordPress theme developed by Simon Dickson for the recent Programme For Government site. Seeing the government use Open Source tools for the website, and reusing previous themes, demonstrates the spirit of the spending challenge.

The extension and reuse of such open source technology throughout government could help to bring down the cost of government websites. The axing of many government websites has already been proposed by Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude, but ideas from the public on reducing the costs of current sites e.g. through using free templates such as Govfresh’s Gov 2.0 theme, would be welcomed – especially when some current sites have a per visit cost of £11.78.

The winning idea from the US SAVE award is expected to save $2 million for 2011, and $14.5 million between 2010-2014. Any similar savings arising from the UK Spending Challenge should help establish the power of consultation with the public as a means of saving money and improving government efficiency.

Further reading

{ 12 comments… add one }
  • Roger ReidNo Gravatar 06/07/2010, 1:57 am

    If the government is realy looking for ways to cut back spending then they may consider raising the age for men to 65 before they can apply for a bus pass, most people who retire early can afford to pay upto then for there journeys. I have read that bus passes are costing the country a lot more money then it was thought it would cost.

  • Tina RobinsonNo Gravatar 09/07/2010, 5:52 am

    To help reduce local council spending, which will reduce the amount needed by government , my idea is for all people receiving benefits, that are able to work, to perhaps do a minimum of 10 hours a week voluntary work or community service, using what ever skills they have, still enabling them to look for paid work.

  • Peter ColeNo Gravatar 05/08/2010, 1:30 am

    Save money on prisons.
    Execute all convicted murerers held in prison.
    This would at a stroke save on the cost of detention, provide more places and cut the need to build more prisons.

  • KarinaNo Gravatar 19/08/2010, 9:29 am

    You can save a lot of money by scraping ALL expenses for MP’s & Councillors. Most of them are paid far too much & expenses should come out of their own pocket, after all they wanted to do a public service carreer.

  • AF DarrellNo Gravatar 24/08/2010, 1:54 pm

    1. Abolish the claw-back of annual grants to local authority institutions, which always happens in March. Having worked in a Local Authoriyt funded institution I can attest that theurge to spend all left-over money in February results in an astonishing amount of waste. Give them their annual grant and treat them as responsible for what they do with it, including saving up for next year.

    2. Increase the responsibility of public servants in general, thereby empowering them and reducing the need for obsessive supervision and constant reference to ‘guidelines’ which are not always universally appropriate. Let public servants make a few mistakes and deal with the complaints – it would be cheaper, and leave everyone feelingmore like a citizen and less like a thing that had a relationship with a set of rules or, worse, a computer.

  • Ann FaircloughNo Gravatar 29/08/2010, 6:10 am

    Translation services should be cut. Public sector documents should only be printed in English. Unofficial languages should be supported by volunteers within that particular community. All Building Bridges Offices should be closed as they serve only the people working in them and the already converted. The upkeep of these offices and the capital outlay for initial set up is prohibitive and unncessary.

  • Robert FrareyNo Gravatar 11/09/2010, 11:58 am

    Payment of child allowances. Would it not be an idea to limit the number of children supported to around the national average, after that the responsibility is entirely theirs and not the tax payer who probably had his family limited by income. This will also reduce the need for people to be supplied with mansions to live in.
    Immigration. Why not welcome this, provided the person arriving can prove a job is waiting for them. They are self sufficient and willing to sign away the right to any benefits on the state. The exception being medical which we all need from time to time. This allows them to work, the UK to benefit from their skills and everyones happy. Other countries operate similar systems so why don’t we.

  • jimmy jumpNo Gravatar 13/12/2010, 4:39 pm

    How about cut spending in millitary?
    Perhaps cut bus ticket costs is more humane right?

  • Peter coleNo Gravatar 29/01/2011, 7:20 am

    Come on Mr Cameron, let’s get back to Victorian values
    In 1834 they passed the Poor Law Amendment Act. In future the poor were to be treated as harshly as possible to dissuade them from seeking help from the state. In future able bodied people with no income were to be forced to enter a workhouse.

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