UK HMG claims it has claimed £1bn so far from efficiency savings, including canning hot-potato ICT projects like ID cards and imposing a stop on all £100m-plus tech projects pretty much from when it was installed in May. And if things carry on as they are, it adds, that figure will triple by May 2011.
Before we go any further, we should say that this announcement is very much in the spirit of the current administration’s rhetoric, as evinced in the official announcement. It says, for example, that at least £500m of the claimed savings have come through tough curbs on a range of central government expenditure, including ICT, consulting, recruitment, marketing and property spending and the cancellation of other projects, like ID cards, which, we are told, were all examples of "waste".
"This government is leaving no stone unturned in cutting unnecessary and excessive expenditure to protect jobs and the frontline services on which people depend," declares Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude in a very characteristic quote, for example.
Part of that drive is of course it hitting the pause button on hundreds of tech projects carrying a plus-£1m price tag, and if you are interested, you can look at some of these in at least top-level detail here.
IBM was named as supplier connected to projects being re-evaluated with 31, followed by HP with 30, then Capgemini and BT with 19 each, Atos with 13, Accenture with 12 and Fujitsu with 10. But some 120 of the list had no specified supplier name. In terms of breakdown by Ministry, some 113 contracts at the Department for Work and Pensions are being looked at, accounting for the majority of the roster of projects that may or may not be canned, or 35%, followed by the Home Office, with 40 (12%), just ahead of DfT’s 38 (12%).
My problem with all this is that adjective "waste". Were ID cards wasteful? Surely there is at least some scope for arguing it was in the terms (if not the actuality of delivery) legitimate policy? One man’s waste, after all, is another man’s politics that he doesn’t like.
Let’s be clear: Maude isn’t saying putting the shackles on ICT is the sole basis for his billion pounds clawback. The government has been clear that it’s been a range of changes, involving fewer civil servants being hired, over 60% less being spent on marketing and advertising contracts in the first six months of this year, saving £133m compared to the same period in the previous year and some £18m less was spent in rent payments, achieved by vacating 20 properties.
But it also says 50% less was spent on consulting compared to the same period last year – saving £300m Clearly, a new era has dawned, one that will have an impact on the fortunes of a number of suppliers, who have been relying on the public sector as a cash cow, in some cases as far as the dot com crash of 2001.
A coda to all this is that Maude’s plans for reform are in turn about to face public scrutiny. The influential House of Commons Public Accounts Select Committee said last week that it wants to look at how the government develops and implements its IT strategy, "including how it identifies business needs, the effectiveness of governance arrangements, and procurement policy and practice".
It could well be that some claims about £3bn savings may not survive that process. Let’s watch this space.