Magazine article Public Finance

Scottish Services Must Be 'Best in World'

Magazine article Public Finance

Scottish Services Must Be 'Best in World'

Article excerpt

Efficiency is the buzzword of the moment in public services, and that is just as true in Holyrood as it is in Westminster.

Tom McCabe, the Scottish Executive's minister for finance and public service reform, has launched an ambitious programme, Efficient Government, to realise cumulative efficiency gains of £1.73bn by 2007/08. He has also been spearheading the formulation of a far-reaching public sector reform strategy, publishing a consultation document, Transforming public services, in the summer.

When McCabe delivers his proposals in the New Year they are likely to lead to a major shake-up in the way public services north of the border are configured and run.

He has already made it clear that, as far as he is concerned, Scotland has too many public bodies, with 32 councils, 15 health boards, eight police forces, eight fire brigades and various quangos. He wants to avoid duplication of effort and waste of resources.

The minister's conclusions are likely to form the Scottish Labour Party's public policy platform in the campaign for next year's Scottish Parliament elections.

Public Finance, in association with performance and information management company Aspiren, brought together the finance directors of Scotland's local authorities, who are in the front line of the efficiency and reform drive, to listen to the perspectives of the private and public sectors on the efficiency programme and to debate the issues raised.

The event, which took place in the Macdonald Marine hotel in North Berwick, East Lothian, on November 2, was chaired by Alan Logan, head of finance at West Lothian Council. It provoked a lively discussion among those directors in attendance.

Ruth Parsons, head of public service reform and efficiency at the Scottish Executive, opened proceedings. As the senior civil servant overseeing the reform agenda, she lost no time in throwing down the gauntlet to the assembled audience.

'We want to be the best small country in the world for public service management,' Parsons declared. 'But at the moment not enough of what we do meets that standard.'

She acknowledged that Scotland faced particular challenges, such as high levels of ill health and large numbers of young people not in education or training. But she warned that there was an even greater hurdle - a financial one - to come. Just as public services elsewhere in the UK are set to feel a funding squeeze after 2008, so too, Parsons warned, are those in Scotland.

'It's been reasonably comfortable in Scottish public services, but that's not going to be sustained in the tighter fiscal climate,' she said.

In such a climate, efficiency and reform were 'two parts of the same agenda,' Parsons added. 'Trying to manage our organisation as efficiently and effectively as we can is our duty as public servants'

She identified four key strands to delivering greater efficiency: effective procurement, good asset management, a shift towards shared services and proper sickness absence management On procurement, Parsons said that 'leveraging from 32 to the power of one, to one to the power of 32" was in everyone's best interests.

Parson's call for more collaboration between different public bodies was echoed by the second speaker, Tony Rush, a member of the CBI Scotland council and chair of construction, manufacturing and industrial company Barr. …

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