The creation of the Efficiency and Reform group in HM Treasury harks back to the old Efficiency and Effectiveness Group in the Cabinet Office, which included the formerly free-standing Prime Minister’s Efficiency Unit.
Jointly chaired by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the Cabinet Office Minister, the new group will have official-level representation from all UK and English government departments in Whitehall to oversee achievement of the efficiency savings announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 24 May.
It is good that the trap of believing that efficiencies can achieve everything has been avoided so far, but announcing savings is the easy bit. Delivery is far harder. Putting senior ministers at the head of the group sends one right message, but creates a problem. Where do you go when departments start to get difficult, as they will? A group chaired by senior officials can appeal to ministers to bring truculent ministries into line, but as the group is already chaired by senior ministers, there may be only the nuclear option of appealing to the Deputy PM or the PM himself. That’s an option that once used, loses effect.
Efficiency and reform rightly go together, but they are not the same thing. The last government often seemed to think they were. Things can be made efficient through improvement that is less than reform and reforms can be inefficient.
The question is will this new group be able to deliver net savings where others have failed?