Friday, June 03, 2011

Silly season comes early

It may be me, but I find myself struggling to find anything sensible in the MSM that is worth blogging on this site. More and more, one draws on one's own resources, using agency material and referring to original sources. Anything one does see has to be checked carefully as errors – even when identified - are unlikely to be acknowledged.

Into that category storms this item (above) which refers to a promise to save "£10 billion" from "stationery". We are told by the Failygraph that the savings in 2013/14 and the following year will reach £3 billion, so "total savings in the current four-year spending round would be around £10 billion".

However, while the rompers play in the Failygraph editorial office, the grown-ups in The Financial Time (above) are telling us that central government will save more than £3bn ($5bn) a year, or a quarter of its £13bn spending on "common goods and services such as stationery, office services, consultancy and travel costs, by 2015".

What is interesting here is to see that "consultancy" is included in the list, which is a serious item of expenditure. Last year, government spending on this category was recorded at £1.8 billion. The Department of Health spent most (£480,402,000) followed by the Department for International Development (£288,100,000) and the Home Office (£194,116,000). The total bill, not rounded, came to £1,809,676,000.

And also included in these projected savings are travel costs, with  the public sector paying out £2.45 billion in 2008-9, and central government departments spending £662 million. The total bill includes air travel and chauffeur-driven limousines, so there is scope for considerable savings here.

As for government stationery, actual annual costs for all public sector organisations run to about £850 million – a large enough figure but nowhere approaching the billions suggested by the Failygraph.

Furthermore, the cost savings programme is presented as a new initiative by Francis Maude, who is cited as saying that "his team" had found that across Whitehall, around 15,000 different items of stationery are being bought. Under the new centralised system, that will fall to 600,000, he says (That's what the paper says, so it must be true).

"It is bonkers for different parts of Government to be paying vastly different prices for exactly the same goods", Maude tells us. "We are putting a stop to this madness which has been presided over for too long".

However, typos apart, one wonders if this is simply a rehash of old news. There has in fact been a rationalisation programme going on for some time, as this 2007 report from the Office of Government Commerce indicates (right). This looks to be a continuation of the process. Government departments simply do not move that quickly, and could not yield savings of the scale claimed by Maude unless the initiative already had a head of steam.

Thus, it seems, with a little more research, this could have been an interesting story, rather than the line adopted by the media, which seems to be to rehash of a government press release. Once again, it seems, newspapers are a time-consuming way of being ill-informed, some more than others.