Hopes dashed over Gershon review

26 May 2004
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27 May 2004 | Mark Whitehead

Expectations that the review of public-sector efficiency by Sir Peter Gershon will be published have been dashed amid protests over his alleged proposals from senior civil servants and local government officers.

Any of Gershon's proposals will be "fed into" the bigger public spending review by chancellor Gordon Brown due to be announced in July, according to the Treasury, which sponsored the study.

The Gershon efficiency review was said to propose radical changes aimed at saving up to £15 billion for front-line services, largely through more efficient procurement.

A draft report leaked to the national press in February included proposals to set up as few as four regional purchasing agencies responsible for all major spending by the whole public sector including local authorities, the NHS, and government departments.

Shortly after the story appeared, Gordon Brown announced plans to cut 80,000 civil service jobs.

But the Gershon proposals were this week dismissed as superficial, unachievable and inadequately researched.

One senior public-sector purchasing professional said of the leaked draft report: "Everyone's saying it's a million miles from reality.

"It contains assumptions of significant cost savings that are simply not achievable. I don't think Gershon could deliver such a massive change programme."

Angry reaction against the proposals were said to have reached the highest levels in the Civil Service, with top officials pressing for it to be "buried".

Another professional purchaser with extensive experience in government procurement said: "The background work on the report was poorly done and superficial. That's why there was a backlash among senior servants who wanted to bury it."

A spokesman for the Treasury said: "There was never any plan to publish the report. It's an ongoing process that will inform the Treasury's decisions as part of its spending review."

Earlier this month, local government minister Nick Raynsford told a conference organised by the CBI, the employers' organisation, that it would be "a miracle" if the number of public-sector purchasing organisations could be cut to as few as half a dozen in the proposed 18-month timetable.

Digby Jones, chief executive of the CBI, recently attacked the plans as lacking detail.


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