Skip to main content
Civil Service

The Public Sector Efficiency Challenge

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Civil Service Leaders

Nick's pictureThe greatest collective achievement of public sector workers in recent years has been to deliver substantive public spending reductions while maintaining, or even improving, the quality of public services.  When public spending cuts were first mooted back in 2009, that did not seem possible. But satisfaction with the NHS is rising, crime in England and Wales has fallen by a quarter, while children across the country can benefit from more good or outstanding schools than ever.

This step-change in productivity does not reflect some centrally imposed master plan.  Rather, it is the sum of ideas, suggestions and actions by individual public servants up and down the country.  It reflects decisions made locally at the front line.

This autumn, we need to allocate resources for the next four to five years. The spending challenge is likely to be on a similar scale to the last major Spending Review in 2010.  Some £20 billion of savings are required to eliminate the deficit.

Last week, the Chancellor, George Osborne, and Chief Secretary, Greg Hands, invited millions of public sector workers to take part in a ‘Public Sector Efficiency Challenge’.  In short, where is the waste? How can we do things differently to get better services for less money? And how can we reform and devolve public services so that people have greater control at a local level?

We are being asked to send in our ideas by 4 September via a short online survey.  That survey has not just gone to civil servants – it has gone to the armed forces, NHS workers, police officers, teachers, fire services and local government employees.

In the first three days of the survey going live, some 15,000 ideas were submitted. This is an excellent start and reflects the positive attitude we saw in the Spending Challenge of 2010, when public sector workers submitted some 63,000 ideas. Following that exercise, departments implemented a number of suggestions that saved millions for the taxpayer. For example, we stopped distributing National Insurance numbers to people in the form of a plastic card, and we reduced the need for multiple Criminal Records Bureau checks by providing electronic access to employers.

This time round, a cross-government team is being assembled to review the ideas received and consider which can be implemented.  The Government will take a decision on which will be taken forward later in the autumn.

The survey will remain open for another three weeks.  Do fill it in if you can.  Your ideas matter.

Sharing and comments

Share this page


  1. Comment by Simon Rowe posted on

    Srap the TV licence and make people pay the £120 towards the NHS. The BBC can fund themselves from adverts.This would raise around £billion. I would rather have a first class subsidised service than a second class free one

  2. Comment by A Smith posted on

    Dear Mr Osborne,

    I wonder could you have thought of a more patronising way to insult already overworked local government officers?

    Deregulation may have cut red tape for members of the public but all the government has done has shifted the responsibilities onto overstretched local councils. And yet in that environment you still ask us to find savings and efficiencies. You couldn't be more out of touch. How about offering yourself up as a cost saving?

  3. Comment by J Murphy posted on

    Break the link between claiming Disability benefits and diagnosis of ADHD. We are doing no favours to hoards of young people whose parents press for ADHD diagnosis so they can claim more benefits. This costs the NHS in time and medication. This condemns a number of young people to a life of stigma and is not necessary. Children are a challenge and need proper parenting, they do not need a lable, drugs and stigma just so the parent with care can claim more money from the State. We are setting up a whole load of children to fail and wasting tax payers money on medication and benefits. There is now proper academic research to demonstrate this.

  4. Comment by Mr C J Bone posted on

    The best possible opportunity for saving money and increasing efficiency is to appoint good managers and let them manage. The current system of centrally dictated - recruiting bans, recruiting processes, travel restrictions, purchasing, hotel and travel booking and many other examples takes no account of a departments required output or real market costs, hence the demotivation of staff. To appoint a senior military officer at Brigadier Rank or Civil Servant and require higher authorisation for foriegn travel or recruitment is to undermine their position, and their staff's integrity.

  5. Comment by Steve Sarsby posted on

    I think you've answered your own question Sir Nicholas. If the increase in productivity reflects decisions made locally at ther front line then the obvious answer is to stop successive Governments using the Civil Service as a political football and leave us alone to get on with our jobs.

    Then the Government of the day will have more time to consider their own waste; MPs expenses and excessive pay rises, subsidised bars and restaurants at the Houses of Parliament and continuing to pay those members of both Houses who fail to turn up to do the jobs they are paid hansomely for.

  6. Comment by Graham Kirby posted on

    Just two suggestions
    The way Crown court daily lists ( HMP Bullingdon has 3 each day) are dealt with has not changed in the 13 years I have been working for the prison service, my last employer (Unipart Group of companies) was/is an extremly LEAN private company (in fact they sold the LEAN [package to HMRCS in 1995) AND if they were running these types of procedures they would transform this and most other processes, WHY doesnt HMP visit Unipart HQ in oxford its a company emplying 13,000 staff and is just about the most leanest company in the UK
    Procedurse like the crown court lists each day make me shake my head -in 13 years it hasnt changed- and likely never will.
    Most cost saving ideas seem to relate to stupid tiny things like photocopying reduction etc etc.
    Its about Time HMP took a look at the leanest companies in the UK and made some attempt to mirror their techniques to the whole enterprise.
    Othe than that , why so many Governors and Managers, eg if a dept has an extra member of staff it as a 'knee jerk' reaction has to have another manager. So it rolls on .
    Every single new prisoner here has his details placed on NOMIS yet we have to also place them on (and keep updating) a huge spreadsheet.
    WHY all this duplication? surely a system like NOMIS should be SPODE - single point of data entry - and should run the reporting needed , it should not depend on every case admin staff duplicating every single thing.
    IF I was to explain the day to day practices on data to ex-colleagues from Unipart Group they would laugh , and I would feel greatly embarassed.
    I had 33 years service with Unipart group and have an NVQ5 Business qualification from Oxford Brookes University and my biggest challenge at work is having to do so much Non Value Added work.
    I an trying to help and dearly wish the HMP powers that be would ring Oxford 01865 778966 and speak to the Cheif Exectutive Mr John Neil CBE and ask if he can help lean HMP.
    This man is Charismatic and incredibly focused on cutting out waste and leaning work processes.
    I personally would like to see HMP move towards the ideals on one of the UK's most LEAN companies

  7. Comment by Andrew posted on

    Get rid of PMR eight of the Fortune Five Hundred Companies have already done so. This wil not only save money but time as well.

  8. Comment by Chris Reddy posted on

    Why are the Tax Payers paying for the privilege of collecting debts for private companies such as electricity, gas and water by making deductions from benefits and at no cost to these companies who make millions every year in profits.

  9. Comment by Karen Young posted on

    The current performance system is very resource intensive for line managers, with peer group reviews planned for both half year and end of year. To give an example for my small area to take part in the half year peer group review this will result in a number of managers spending a full day out of the office (this includes travelling to and from the meeting, as face to face is encouraged for this). These peer group reviews can often be unfair based on who can shout the loudest to defend or fight for their people.

  10. Comment by Jo posted on

    How about cutting the attendance allowance paid to members of the House of Lords? Or aligning the pay of MPs with a particular civil service grade (even if that is Perm Sec) - and capping it too.

  11. Comment by John posted on

    I would give you some advice, but then I would have to charge you an inflated consultancy fee, as seems to be commonplace in the civil service I won't....or have I just done so......?!

    Honestly.. Please tell me you are joking after offering your staff 1% for the next 4 years. My advice would be unprintable.

  12. Comment by stacy cousin posted on

    more for less... well, us lowly types have been reducing waste in our departments ever since the introduction of pacesetter. We are continually looking at ways to improve and ways to cut waste. The quickest way of getting more for less would be to match MP pay rises with ours... 0.5%. so instantly you have saved 9.5% of each MP pay rise. massive savings. Also, maybe MPs could take public transport instead of submitting expenses for first class travel. it's infuriating asking us this when we have been doing "more for less" for the last decade!

  13. Comment by Anthony posted on

    Why should we tell the Government where "savings" a.k.a. cuts can be made? Turkeys voting for Christmas and all that.

  14. Comment by Lynn Roberts posted on

    with UC if a claimant is ill, we still pay them even if we have not received the med cert, this needs to stop. until the med cert is received and this means when the old cert is running out, we need the new one before a payment is made. there is no sense to let them have payment without sending in a new cert. there is no motivation for the claimant to fulfill their obligations and is costing the department time and money chasing the claimant. stop the money and they will comply.

  15. Comment by callum posted on

    I'm sorry, but you've given civil servants a measly 1% pay award for the next 4 years and you expect us to come up with idea's for more cuts! You couldn't make this up !