12 October 2010 | Angeline Albert
Former chief secretary to the Treasury Michael Portillo believes the government will not
achieve its declared spending cuts as it strives to slash the public deficit.
Addressing procurement professionals at the CIPS
Conference Portillo, now a broadcaster and political commentator, said: “Government is universally inefficient and wasteful. It lacks the management skills.”
However, speaking ahead of this month’s review, in which the government expect to set out cuts of up to 40 per cent of spending from departments outside health and international aid, Portillo said: “I think what they are proposing to do is more than they can actually do.
“But I also have no doubt that they are serious about it and even if they can’t be as successful as they think they can, they will probably be more successful than any government has been before,” he added.
Management skills and information were the problem in achieving the efficiency savings necessary to make cuts without harming services, said Portillo.
“The figures that we’re talking could be got out without damage, but that does not mean that they will be got out without damage, because you don’t have a laser to point at areas of inefficiency and get rid of them.”
However, the political will was there, if not the experience, he said referring to the large number of new, inexperienced MPs.
“All the people elected this time knew this is what they had to do. They are up for it.”
Meanwhile, ahead of the review, procurement chiefs have called on Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude to make clear that purchasing needs to be at the top level of decisions regarding cuts.
Nikki Bell, deputy head of Procurement Scotland, said: “Maude needs to tell organisations to include procurement. That’s what will bring the savings.
“The minister of finance chairs our Public Procurement Reform Board,” she said. “The chief executives from public bodies are also at the table.”
Andy Davies, director of the London Universities Purchasing Consortium, said: “You have to get the right senior voices at the table with procurement. Then you’re more likely to get the efficiencies you need.
“Procurement is not a high enough priority. In some organisations it is still seen as a lowly, administrative role.”