(My thanks also to Lesley for letting me in to post this) 

This was the stark title of one session at Scotgovcamp and since ’twas me that called it out as a potential title I felt obliged to introduce the discussion and move it along when necessary (which proved to be once only).  Also produced a twinge of guilt when I realised others in similar positions were posting notes of their discussions on the blog.  So here goes…

…my motivation had been the stark news from the UK government that their departments (apart from the few protected from cuts) were being asked to prepare budget savings of between 25% and 40% to cope with the overhang of government debt the coalition had inherited.

Any smugness about devolved Scottish budgets being protected had been coincidentally removed earlier in the week when Crawford Beveridge published his Independent Budget Review with the blunt warning:

There are very difficult decisions to be made over the next few months, requiring strong leadership not just in their making but also in their subsequent implementation… important decisions also need to be taken about the future. Scotland needs to decide what form and shape of public services it desires and can afford. What do we want the state to do? What level of taxes are we willing to bear for the provision of our public services? How much should we change the mix between the state, the individual, the third/voluntary sector, and the private sector?

I had been interested in both the challenge that these cuts might pose for all things webby and digital as well as the opportunities it opened up.  These are some of the things people said. 

The problem of ring-fenced (protected) budgets meant that other areas of government spend had to take a disproportionate hit. 

The only way cuts of this scale could be made was by reducing the number of people in the public sector.  But the unsustainable cost of public sector pensions loomed over all this (this was the one point in the discussion that I felt was being treated disproportionately and we eventually moved on to other aspects). 

The cuts gave an opportunity to use systems thinking to improve services and save money through re-engineering and new ways of doing things. 

Innovation was very important in this area.  Someone recommended the book The Psychology of Everyday Things (since retitled The Design of Everyday Things) by Donald Norman as relevant to this area. 

There was always the danger of cutting the wrong things. 

Front line staff knew best about problems in work (better than management) and should be involved in meeting the challenges. 

The challenge with cuts on the scale required/proposed was the short timescale. 

Public bodies needed a mind shift to use different technologies e.g, FlickR/Experian data. 

We must be careful not to exclude people throught the use of new technology. 

There was a problem with local authorities not being willing – constrained by rigid procurement rules – to share their problems with providers to produce innovative solutions. 

Youth justice was given as an example of an area where (unfortunately) you can only sell improvement as a cost saving. 

We were still in full flow (surely a sign of success?) when Dave Briggs peered in to mime a rotating hamster cage in what we had come to learn as his unique way of saying “Wind it up”.  We wound it up. 

Roger White

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