Today John Denham joins in, having digested the reports of the Total Place pilots (http://m.guardian.co.uk/?id=102202&story=http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/feb/21/denham-targets-20bn-council-savings).
Denham concludes that; "An average saving of around 5-6% just through better use of assets across the pilot suggests that this could potentially save in the region of £20bn nationally."
So, someone somewhere undertaking a pilot project (a major objective of which is to save money) has estimated that more efficient use of particular assets in particular circumstances might save 5-6% (guesstimated perhaps?)
This is then generalised to produce a nice round headline grabbing figure. No one knows whether the particular circumstances of the particular pilot could really be "grossed up" in this way.
There are many factors which might impact upon this projected saving. To the extent that savings were to be achieved by co-locating services and vacating surplus premises (in principle an entirely sensible proposition) then if this were to be done simultaneously across the public sector the flood of property into a largely stagnant economy could make it very hard indeed to achieve savings from the disposal of surplus assets.
Its fairly obvious what drives this wishful thinking about "pain free" public spending cuts. Its the same force that drives the dreams of EasyCouncil and the "John Lewis local authority" - politicians are looking for ways to hack back public spending without devastating vital front line services.
It cannot be done - and it isn't needed. If a Government wished to reduce the deficit when (in the future) it would be prudent to do so, the largest part of this could be done by reducing tax avoidance.
Some savings programmes could be cut (Trident for example - why not fund that as a mutual venture where only those who want it pay in?)
Some savings could be made (stop paying consultants hundreds of pounds a day to tell us what we already know or would be better off without!)
There are, however, no massive savings to be made without significant and detrimental effects on public services. The answer to this dilemma is to make a positive political choice in favour of public services and the interests of working people - not to pretend to have found the holy grail of savings which aren't cuts.
The Peoples Charter, supported by the TUC, and Unison's "Million Voices" campaign both offer an alternative vision - where are the Labour politicians who will support this? (Clue - http://www.l-r-c.org.uk)
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