Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 2 August 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: Time to hire a savings tsar

As the Chancellor, George Osborne, today unveiled the long-awaited and much-dreaded austerity measures required to tackle the UK’s record debt, the immediate temptation is to imagine that the new public spending budget can only be realistic if very many jobs are axed.

Of course jobs in the public sector will inevitably go, but there are other efficiency savings which should be examined as a matter of urgency to mitigate the forthcoming hardship.

Many of those who have joined in this newspaper’s campaign against waste have highlighted ways in which valuable public money is frittered away unnecessarily.

Many of their complaints have the ring of truth about them. It has to be admitted that even taken together some of the savings suggested would barely make a dent in the budget shortfall, but others would make a significant contribution.

The policy of spending money on all sorts of projects as the financial year-end approaches just to avoid handing it back to the Treasury is one example. It is unfair that thrifty departments are penalised for not spending their entire budgets in any one financial year by having to hand the surplus over to the Treasury.

Surely it would be more sensible to allow it to be added to the following year’s budget and allow work to be planned in an orderly fashion?

Businessman Sir Philip Green identified £20bn of savings in the public sector without a job being shed if government departments followed the best practice of the private sector.

Surely a similar scrutiny of the Stormont administration’s balance sheets could uncover proportionately significant savings. Government wastes millions on hiring consultants, while hiring a waste tsar could actually save millions.

Before the axe falls on thousands of jobs, the Executive should consider a business leader to advise on how to save money and cut waste.

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