15 Mar 2014
Below is the text from a speech delivered today by Francis Maude MP to the Scottish Conservative conference.
“Conference it’s great to be here in Edinburgh. You heard yesterday from the Prime Minister about how the Conservatives are focused on securing Scotland’s future within the United Kingdom. We are ensuring that – after a No vote in the referendum – this country is a place which backs those who do the right thing and want to work hard and get on.
We are the party with the long-term plan to build a stronger, more competitive economy for all of us. Let me explain a little about what we are doing to cut the deficit and reform the public sector to save hard-working taxpayers’ money and ensure that the public services we rely on are as good as they can be.
At the time of the last General Election, almost four years ago – Whitehall was spending taxpayer a culture prevailed where money was no object. Billions of pounds got frittered away on wasteful consultancy, superfluous advertising, disastrous IT projects.
Billions more was lost to benefit fraudsters and tax cheats – further billions from payments made in this sort of carelessness with other people’s hard-earned money was always reprehensible. In these straitened times it would be inexcusable.
When we came to power this Government inherited the largest budget deficit in the UK’s post-war
• paying £120 million a day just to service the interest on the country’s debt.
• Spending £4 for every £3 we were getting in, just to keep the lights on, the pensions paid, and the doctors and nurses in the hospitals.
Labour were spending money like it was going out of fashion. Well it now has gone out of fashion.
Three years and a half years on and we’ve cut the deficit by over a third.
Sticking to this long-term economic plan – dealing with our debts and keeping our interest rates low
• To keep mortgage rates low for the security of all of us
• To help businesses grow so we can win in the global race
• To build a nation where people who work hard can get on in life.
So we had a clear choice – indiscriminate cuts to the front line services people depend on.
Or cutting the costs of Government; clamping down on waste and investing in growth.
The low road of the soft option line of least resistance easy cuts. Or the high road of tough practical a transformative efficiency and reform agenda – a proper long-term plan for how to run the economy. Public services that are not only cheaper but better: 21st century services, designed around the needs of the user, rather than the bureaucrat.
While productivity in the private services sector rose by 30% – under Labour public sector if productivity in the public sector had risen by a comparable amount, our economic position and fiscal position would have been radically different.
So driving cost out to drive up productivity was clearly essential -but how? Successive Governments had talked efficiency – it features hopefully in every election manifesto. Efficiency has been Whitehall’s promised land for many decades.
Within days of the 2010 General Election we introduced tough spending. Controls that remain to take procurement – far too often Government was paying different prices for the same goods or services. For example when we came in we found parts of the government were paying 7 and a half times more for standard black printer cartridges than others.
Immediately we started renegotiating contracts with our biggest suppliers – dealing with them as a single customer instead of letting them play one part of government off against another – when we slashed spending on consultancy –it’s down by two thirds, and made massive savings from we’ve cut the size of the Civil Service – down 15% so far, with more to come.
And we’ve cut the cost of Government’s property – getting out of properties that weren’t needed.
We’ve got out of 1.7 million square metres already: that’s quite a few dozen times larger than none of this is glamorous headline-grabbing stuff. It’s hard detailed grind. Getting deep into the numbers; asking tough questions; long meetings renegotiating over-rich contracts with some of the biggest companies in the world. It’s not what people have come to expect from politicians.
But it’s what they’re entitled to expect – especially from Conservatives. It’s all part of our long-term economic plan to cut the deficit and get the whole of Britain back on the rise.
And it delivers. Savings – real folding money savings. In our first ten months unprecedented savings of £3.75 billion – enough to pay 200,000 junior nurses. In 2011-12 a further £5.5billion. Or the cost of around 1.6 million primary school places. Last year £10 billion – that’s £600 for every there’s more to come. We’ve only just started. I look forward to announcing even bigger savings later in the summer for this financial year. Just think how much better we’d be placed in the global race if when Ed Miliband was in my job he’d done some of this. If instead of plotting with his alter ego Ed Balls to knife first Tony Blair and then his own brother, he’d bothered to start cutting the waste. If instead of pandering to Labour’s union paymasters he’d driven up public sector productivity. That’s real Labour. The same old Labour. Think what you’d get if Labour got back but of course the job is far from over yet. By the end of this Parliament we want to be saving around £20 billion a year, with another £5 billion the year after.
To do more for less we need to transform the way services are designed and delivered in this and we need a 21st century Civil Service that is capable of delivering.
The demand for change comes most strongly from civil servants themselves. There are so many bright, energetic civil servants, full of the desire to serve the public and change the world. But the system that prevents them from giving of their best and makes the whole somehow less than the sum of the parts. The challenge is to create a culture where amazing people driven by a public service ethos can do amazing things.
There’s loads to do. We need to be more digital. Why is it that while 82% of adults are online but only 50% have used government services online?
Online transactions costs the taxpayer a twentieth of what it costs to do it by phone. A thirtieth of the cost by post. And a fiftieth of the cost face to face. By moving from offline to digital channels we should before long be saving citizens and businesses nearly £2 billion a year. And letting people get what they want done quickly, conveniently, at a time of their choosing. Applying for your driving license, changing details on your personal tax return, registering to vote – these all need to be secure, but they should be as quick and easy as booking a holiday or buying a book online. And they’re all part of a first wave of online services which will come online later this year.
Government spends £45 billion each year on goods and services. But in the past it’s been expensive, slow, wasteful, freezing out small new innovative businesses that are better value for taxpayers’ money, and can help Britain forge ahead in the global race. We’re making procurements faster, less bureaucratic and more open to smaller suppliers.
Under Labour no one even bothered to count how much business went to small home-grown companies. We now do, and it’s rising. Up from 6% of overall spend when we took power in 2010, to nearly 20% today – all part of our long-term economic plan to get this country growing.
New era for modern public services
We have reached a turning point for public service delivery in this country.
For decades the way services have been run – a top-down, take-what-you’re-given approach – has neither been cost-effective or user-friendly.
That’s why the other half of our efficiency and reform agenda is focused on shifting power away from the centre and bringing in more flexibility and choice for users, and more local control over the we are breaking the public sector monopoly over service provision; allowing charities, social enterprises, private companies and employee-owned co-operatives to compete to offer people high in particular we are encouraging the public service mutual, where groups of entrepreneurial public sector workers have formed themselves into an employee-led entity to deliver the public service in a contractual rather than a line managed hierarchal model. Typically these deliver, almost overnight, amazing productivity improvements.
Finally, underpinning all of our public service reforms is an overriding commitment to transparency by putting an unprecedented amount of public data in the open – from where tax money is spent to how local hospitals are performing – we are starting to expose what is inadequate, improve local this won’t always be comfortable. In fact transparency can be extremely uncomfortable – but it and transparency will be key to driving the effective, efficient, 21st Century personalised services we are in a global race today. And we need to take the right decisions to ensure that Britain keeps its place in the world, we need to take long-term decisions in the interest of the whole country.
So we won’t duck our deficit plans – but we will ensure squeezed public resources are targeted at the people who need it most. That’s important for the security and peace of mind of all of us.
By poring over spreadsheets, properly scrutinising every single pound and radically changing the way Government works – we have already secured massive and unprecedented savings for the in two years we will ask the voters to return us to government, this time with an outright majority.
Some question whether that’s even possible. We’re behind in the polls they say but we have now had 11 by-elections in a row – both in Holyrood and council – when the Scottish Conservative vote
And let me tell you this. In the eighties we were much further behind between elections. Neil Kinnock, for heavens sake, was doing better then than Ed Miliband is today. At election time we won. Because we persuaded people that what we were doing – difficult, tough, uncomfortable – was a necessary of our long term plan for the country. That if we were to win in the global race, and be a country where hard-working people could succeed and get on in life, the government had to take the high road of the hard option and the hard work. We won because a great Prime Minister led a party that embraced the future and believed in the country and its people. Today we’re led by a great Prime Minister who leads the party of the future. And if we believe, as she did, and if we do what’s needed for the future, then we’ll win.