Chancellor George Osborne’s Autumn Spending Review is imminent, and the public sector is braced for another round of serious belt-tightening.
On November 25th, the Chancellor will reveal how much government departments, local authorities and the rest of public sector, will need to save over the next four years. Mr Osborne has already announced that four departments have agreed to an average in spending reduction of 30% over this parliament. Although it’s no silver bullet, digitalisation will be key to achieving a vision of a leaner, more efficient government.
Last week I spoke at the Public Sector Enterprise ICT conference and the Spending Review was on the lips of just about everybody who I spoke to. By transforming services using digital technologies, government can deliver services both more efficiently and also more effectively, using digital to enable new services to citizens as well as re-engineering and transforming existing ones.
Delegates at the conference heard about some great examples of work happening from across the country. West Yorkshire Police, for instance, are striving to be the largest ‘mobile’ police force in the country, and we also heard of Warwickshire County Council’s plan to create an online data exchange to make customer interactions more streamlined.
This all chimes with the findings from our Digital Inside Out research. We found 84 per cent of people would always or sometimes choose to use a digital service when available. On top of this, the top three things employees (including civil servants) see from digital are remote working, the use of real-time information, and saving time. These benefits alone could support civil servants in making the level of efficiencies required.
But it’s not just the spending review that got us all thinking. There are wider societal changes on the horizon which we’re keeping a close eye on – and governments around the world will have to face how they deal with them.
Megatrends such as population growth (set to be up by nearly 24% by 2050), an ageing population at that, and growing energy usage are all major issues which public services are going to have to adapt to and manage if we are to realise a sustainable future.
If you couple these together with the more pressing need to cut public sector spending, it could leave some civil servants feeling like they have a chasm to avoid falling into.
I was privileged to be joined by Sarah Wilkinson Chief Technology Officer at The Home Office. Some of the ways these megatrends are affecting them include a 10 percent growth in air passengers, and a 28 percent growth in air freight. That’s not to mention the pressures around Dover and Calais, or the illicit drugs trade.
I talked about fraud and error as well. According to a report published by Government around £31bn is lost to fraud and error every year. That’s about £500 for every person in the UK.
We’ve been working with HMRC with our fraud and error data analytics toolset. This has saved UK tax payerstaxpayers more than £400m over the last five years by analysing information, often provided by claimants; in this case child tax credits. If just a couple of percent of fraud and error was eliminated across Government services that would certainly take a big dent out of the Chancellor’s ambitious savings plans, allowing Departments to protect other services from the potential impact of cuts.
We have done that for a couple of local authorities as well. At Southwark Council saving it £0.5 million by exposing fake students. In a pilot we held in Gravesham we enabled the authority to identify 45 properties that were being used for housing fraud.
But there are further savings to be made. This is why the shared services agenda becomes more important. Further efficiencies by sharing back office functions between Departments could go much further if relevant functions can be embraced by local government and other public sector organisations. Creating a common platform that the whole public sector can buy into will help enable savings to be delivered at scale.
Technology can be there to help provide the answers to some of these issues – both the megatrends, and the Chancellor’s spending review. By embracing technology, the public sector will be able to rise up to these challenges in the face of limited budgets.
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