Many of us have witnessed very large numbers being claimed for efficiency savings, but always had an uneasy feeling that they might be, shall we say, illusional. The classic example is around Gershon’s efficiency savings, where the NAO could only substantiate around a quarter of the savings. Over the past few years, Francis Maude and the Cabinet Office have gone to great lengths to assure us that their efficiency savings numbers reflect reality. They’ve developed clear methodologies about what counts, they’ve used the National Audit Office to assure these are being consistently applied, and they are being very open with external commentators like the Institute for Government, who take an interest in what they are doing. This should be applauded. So sitting at the event this morning, I was fairly certain that the numbers being presented were not illusional. Which naturally leads us to the next question – how could we tell whether £14.3bn of savings was a good or a bad result? The first thing would be to ignore the commentary in most of today’s papers. The BBC, for example, said that this year’s number ‘exceeded the amount achieved last year’, in terms that suggested this was a great […]

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