The report by Sir Philip Green into Whitehall efficiency is now out* and it makes interesting reading, not least his suggestion that maybe the state shouldn’t be paying for mobile phones for desk-bound junior personnel. (There are 105,000 government mobiles).
One of his discoveries is the lack of reliable central government data. For example, his team was first told that Whitehall spent £2bn a year on travel. The second estimate was £500m. The third was £768m – before the final figure came in at £551m. (This will seem familiar to all political journalists).
Sir Philip has also found big differences in prices paid to suppliers: a box of paper can cost anything from £8 to £73. Laptops vary from £353 to £2,000.
As for hospitality; the government uses 400,000 “room nights” a year in London at a cost of £38m. (Sir Philip suggests halving this by use of video conferencing).
The property estate also seems to be riddled with waste. His report cites the example of an agency which moved from London to the Midlands, signing a 20-year lease at £1.2m a year with no break for 15 years. The body was abolished after nine months, leaving the state with an unnecessary rental commitment of £18m.
Then again, why was the agency moved out of the capital in the first place? One can only guess that it was because of the review by Sir Michael Lyons, another external adviser brought in by ministers to cut Whitehall waste. More proof of the law of unintended consequences?
Jennifer Skilbeck, a procurement lawyer, writes in to point out that more centralisation – which seems to be the main theme of the report – is likely to mean fewer contracts for SMEs (small companies).
Paul Waugh points out that one of Sir Philip’s suggestions is to make suppliers wait longer to get paid, as is the way in the corporate world. Again, this is not exactly helpful to any SMEs wanting Whitehall contracts.
* (as of 3.30pm) The report is now here.