The UK public sector is facing budget reductions that dwarf any of the efficiency drives experienced in the last decade. Cuts are inevitable. They are likely to be deep, painful and sustained over several years. They are threatened at a time when the social consequences of recession are sharply felt, and the pressures of social need on the public sector are unlikely to fall for some years.
There is widespread awareness that the scale of budget cuts needed is beyond the domain of what can be delivered by traditional efficiency programmes. The key questions are how to manage the approach to efficiency? How to make sure that money is saved whilst doing as little damage as possible to organisational capacity and the delivery of priority outcomes? How to make sure that the services that remain meet the changing needs of different places and the people who live there? And how to make sure that the focus of budget cuts translates into new ways of providing services and frees up creativity to find fresh approaches to old problems?
If local government could not significantly improve outcomes for residents in many priority areas in the last decade of plenty, can it meet the challenge of spending cuts?