Efficient Government

– in the Scottish Parliament at 2:00 pm on 2nd December 2004.

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Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 2:00 pm, 2nd December 2004

The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-2093, in the name of Tom McCabe, on efficient government, together with three amendments to the motion.

Photo of Tom McCabe Tom McCabe Labour 3:00 pm, 2nd December 2004

The Scottish public sector has the enormous task of ensuring that all people throughout Scotland receive a comprehensive range of services that are tailored to meet the needs of customers and citizens. Those services are the cornerstone of our society, improving our quality of life, providing new opportunities and offering stability and security to all Scots. They make Scotland a great country in which to live, work, study and do business.

Since 1999, there has been unprecedented growth in the resources for public services. However, we want to be judged not only on how much we have invested in public services, but on how well we have delivered for the communities that we serve. Every pound that is used inefficiently is a lost opportunity to provide better public services. We must eliminate inefficiencies where they exist and redirect resources to the front line, providing more nurses, teachers and police officers and improving hospitals, schools and transport links throughout Scotland.

Photo of Tom McCabe Tom McCabe Labour

Not at the moment.

The publication this week of the efficient Government plan is the first milestone in our long-term programme to reduce waste, bureaucracy and duplication in Scotland's public sector. It is not a painless programme, but it will establish Scotland as a leader in efficiency, innovation and productivity in public services. Our ambition is clear: to make the Scottish public sector the most productive in the United Kingdom.

My predecessor announced to Parliament on 24 June an initial target of £500 million in efficiency savings to be made by 2007-08. The plan that we have published this week will significantly exceed that sum and place us on a long-term path—not for three or five years, but for longer. Because I attach such importance to this issue, I want to ensure that our plan is sound in three areas. First, it must be wide enough in its ambition; secondly, it must be robust enough to withstand scrutiny; and, thirdly, it must be deliverable in the interests of hard-working Scottish families.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

Focusing on local government and the £325 million a year that the minister has identified, can he tell me whether the money will come back to the Executive or stay with the councils? Also, what happens if a local authority—such as Aberdeenshire Council—is already so efficient that it cannot identify where to make its share of the savings?

Photo of Tom McCabe Tom McCabe Labour

We stress throughout the document that this exercise is about investing in front-line services, expanding front-line services and creating fresh front-line services. The whole purpose behind it is to ensure that we are able to continue to provide not only the best quality public services, but broader public services that are perhaps better than those anywhere else in the United Kingdom.

Photo of Tom McCabe Tom McCabe Labour

I am still answering the first intervention.

I do not think that it would be justifiable for any council not to produce any savings. I would want to hear sound reasons why any authority, with the level of resources that are now in councils' hands, could not produce further efficiency savings. We know that those savings are possible, not only through change in the organisations, but through their joining with other service providers in the local authority sector and in other spheres.

We have taken slightly longer to get here than we originally intended, but we now have the plan and we are confident and determined.

Photo of Tom McCabe Tom McCabe Labour

In a moment.

Much has been done to improve both the efficiency and the quality of Scotland's public sector, of which I shall give a few examples. The best-value regime has played a huge part in that; the modernising government fund has been a catalyst for finding new and improved ways of working; and the Executive has driven down its own costs across the board. However, we acknowledge that more is needed and now is the right time for a step-change in intensity and focus.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Now that the Government has finally stumbled over the word "efficiency" in the public services, is it right to assume that instead of focusing on efficiency from day one it has been wasting public money over the past five years?

Photo of Tom McCabe Tom McCabe Labour

Over the past five years, we have been listening to the nationalists spend money without any responsibility and tell us about their grand programmes without one word about how they would finance them. I will take no lectures from that side of the chamber.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

What about this side of the chamber?

Photo of Tom McCabe Tom McCabe Labour

I might as well answer that comment: if the nationalists have no hope, the Conservatives have no hope whatsoever.

Our plan sets out how the public sector in Scotland will achieve sustained cash savings year on year, which will lead to £745 million of savings by 2007-08.

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat

Will the minister respond to the commentators who this week have suggested that triple accounting is going on and that the savings will not come into play until the end of the spending review period?

Photo of Tom McCabe Tom McCabe Labour

I am grateful for that intervention, because it allows me to respond to a point that has already been raised.

This is a printed document that clearly sets out the savings that we expect to make in year one, year two and year three and highlights our ambitions for the time beyond that. We have clearly announced that, in the third year, we anticipate year-on-year recurring savings of £745 million and have explained to people in Scotland what we will have saved when we arrive at that point. That approach is perfectly justified. Under no circumstances did we try to mislead people about that figure. A document that has been printed sets out a specific figure for each year and we have explained to people how much we have already saved and how much we will save across each of those three years.

Photo of Tom McCabe Tom McCabe Labour

Presiding Officer, I have taken a number of interventions. I really need to get on with my speech.

People will see that, over that period, £1.7 million will be reinvested in front-line services. However, that is only phase one. The work that we have carried out since June has convinced us that we can go further and release even more cash into the system. Initial indications tell us that we might even reach as high as £900 million by 2007-08; however, it is important that I underline the robustness of the process by not confirming that figure at the moment. Although we will give an indication to allow people to scrutinise our thinking, we will confirm the figure only when we are confident that we can deliver it.

Photo of Tom McCabe Tom McCabe Labour

I am sorry, but I really must get on with my speech.

Although we will make more back-office efficiencies, we will also transform the front line to drive up efficiency and productive time. We will invest in technology and the workforce and will remove boundaries that get in the way of delivering excellent services.

We have identified five initial areas of reform that will achieve time-releasing efficiencies on top of the cash-releasing savings that I have just referred to. We will develop these plans over the coming months and will produce technical notes for both sets of savings.

Again, our indications suggest that we can go further than the £300 million figure that we have announced for time-releasing savings. Indeed, we think that, over the time frame, it is possible to make savings of as much as £600 million, but I will confirm that figure once we have completed our work.

We will expect every public body in Scotland to identify and deliver cash and time efficiencies within their own organisations.

Photo of Tom McCabe Tom McCabe Labour

I will not be taking any more interventions.

We will do this because public services that operate innovatively are effectively the public service at its very best. On procurement, the Scottish Executive has made a significant commitment through the creation of eProcurement Scotl@nd. However, if we are to make a real breakthrough, e-procurement has to be adopted right across the public sector. We fully acknowledge that it will not be enough simply to install a system. We all need to develop the processes, skills and joint working that will drive out the £200 million of efficiency savings that can be achieved by 2008. I am pleased to announce that we have secured the assistance of John McClelland, an eminent Scottish business person, to undertake a review of procurement practice.

Turning to support service reform, we believe that there is scope for saving in joined-up services across Scotland. One example is council tax collection. We are asking councils to look at their systems and to ask hard questions about the 32 different arrangements for collection. The same principles apply to non-departmental public bodies and agencies in Scotland. We need to examine right across the public sector what are core in-house systems and what can be shared.

We have also said that we want to focus on streamlining bureaucracy. We know instinctively and through dialogue with our partners that there is considerable scope for improvement in this area. There is a paradox, however, because councils complain to us about the burden of monitoring, while ministers and, I believe, the general public are unsure whether councils have all the information that they need for proper evaluation. Reporting and scrutiny should be retained when they deliver for the public, but they should be removed when they simply get in the way.

We have also said that we want to examine absence management. However, let me make it perfectly clear that I reject the stereotype of the public sector being a sick-note culture. Many parts of the public sector do as well as, or better than, the private sector and many people in the public sector do difficult and stressful jobs. That is why we are taking forward legislation to protect emergency workers. However, failing to manage sickness absence does no favours for workers, employers or the public. Therefore, we will look carefully at patterns of sickness absence across the public services and take strong action when improvements are needed. We know from experience that better management of our assets can produce significant gains.

This is a huge and challenging agenda. We will lead and drive change, working with our partners in public services and with our most successful private companies. We have drawn together some of the leading players from the public and private sectors, who have expertise and hands-on experience of transforming organisations. They are helping us to develop our long-term plans. We are determined to deliver on time and on target. We will work with the Parliament and with Audit Scotland to monitor delivery and we will ensure that it is a transparent process to show real and measurable improvements.

I know from experience that an army of public servants are excited and enthusiastic about the opportunities for change. I know, too, that breaking down resistance to change can be enormously frustrating. However, the rewards are great and I would urge the use of our efficient government fund to promote success. Some people will say that the drive for efficiency is an attack on the public sector, but nothing could be further from the truth. I believe passionately in the contribution that the public sector can make to the quality of life for all Scots. Our aim is to protect, enhance and secure the role of the public sector for future generations. Our new constitutional arrangements provide us with a unique opportunity in Scotland to challenge some of the things that have held us back for so long, while enhancing our reputation around the world. Success in this initiative will help to demonstrate how Scotland's public sector rose to the challenge.

In an ever-changing world of increased expectations, choice and competition, we need to demonstrate the breadth of our ambition. We also need to learn from others so that our services remain the best throughout the years to come and we need to think hard about the baton that we hand to future generations. If we work together, we can meet that challenge.

I move,

That the Parliament welcomes the publication of Building a Better Scotland: Efficient Government - Securing Efficiency, Effectiveness and Productivity; recognises the need to increase the efficiency, effectiveness and productivity of the Scottish public sector, and endorses the Scottish Executive's ambition to make the Scottish public sector the most productive and innovative in the United Kingdom.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party 3:14 pm, 2nd December 2004

The Scottish National Party welcomes any effective steps in making government more efficient. However, the scale of the challenge that faces us in government at all levels is that too many people see efficient government as an oxymoron. Government is seen as largely inefficient, bureaucratic, wasteful and incapable of reform. Surely it is our task as politicians to change that perception and any reality that underlies it.

Because this is such a serious matter, I must say—even after listening to the minister—that I was disappointed with the method of presentation that was used in the centrepiece table in the document "Building a Better Scotland: Efficient Government—Securing Efficiency, Effectiveness and Productivity", which we are debating. If we look at the savings that are projected for 2005-08—and leave aside the 15 per cent of the claimed savings that is actually from Scottish Water, which we already know about and which does not even count in the Scottish budget, but which miraculously appears when we need to beef up the savings—then the most obvious example of the unnecessary spin that the Executive feels must accompany all its utterances, as Mr Purvis said, is the double counting that occurs in the second column of the table and the triple counting that occurs in the third column.

The minister will say that the figures are correct.

Photo of Tom McCabe Tom McCabe Labour

Leaving aside the point about the figures, is the member really saying that people throughout Scotland are saying, "The Executive is going to save £95 million, but Scottish Water is outside the block, so that does not matter." That is not how the people who pay taxes for those services think. They are delighted that an effort is being made to save money and to reinvest it in the provision of front-line services.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

If the Executive, when it presents percentage savings in its budget, includes things that are not in its budget, it does us all a disservice.

Arithmetically, the figures add up, but I do not think that there is a shred of justification for such presentation. The fact is that if a saving is made in year one—by closing something, sacking someone or, more sensibly, delivering a service more efficiently—unless what has been closed is reopened, the person who has been dismissed is re-employed or the increase in efficiency stops, that saving is done, dusted and over with. On the logic of the Executive's presentation, the closing of the Waverley line through the Borders, which was done, of course, by the Labour Government in 1969, would still be being claimed by this Executive as a saving. I would not be surprised if the present Labour Administration attempted to do that.

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat

Can the member tell the Parliament whether the Scottish National Party's efficiency savings were the reason why the Borders railway was not in its manifesto in 2003?

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

The Liberals have so few seats that they are able to include in their manifesto all the pet projects in each seat.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

I will not take any more interventions, as I do not have quite the latitude that Mr McCabe had.

One can understand why the Executive presents its figures in that way. It does so because more than half the savings will be made next year, so we can bet our boots that they are already in the pipeline. After that, the rate of new savings initiatives drops by a massive 57 per cent. It is no wonder that the Executive wants to talk about the cumulative figure. Even if one accepts all the Executive's figures, in spite of the bluster, the fact is that its percentage savings are much less than the equivalent savings at Westminster—even though the First Minister said that he was going to go further in Scotland.

When we consider the various projected savings, such as those that will be achieved through managing absence, smarter procurement and streamlining bureaucracy, the question that we should all ask is why on earth we should have a special announcement about, and fanfare for, the intention to tackle those issues. Any normal business, government or local authority department that wants to run itself efficiently should be doing that day in, day out, year in, year out. If the Executive has discovered only now that all those savings are there to be made, what on earth has it been doing for the past seven years, since the Labour Government was first elected? How many of the inefficiencies that are built into the system have been built in by Labour over the past seven years and to what extent is the Executive simply undoing a mess that is of its own making?

Let us assume, for a moment, that the savings will be made. When we—or, more important, the people who sent us here—go into a shop, buy something and make a saving on it, because the retailer has been able to cut his price by being more efficient, we expect, after saving that money, still to have it in our pockets; we do not expect the shopkeeper to keep it. How much extra money will the taxpayer, the council tax payer, the income tax payer and the corporation tax payer have in their pockets as a result of the huge savings in the Executive's document, whether they are single counted, double counted or triple counted? The answer is, of course, not a bean. In the topsy-turvy world of devolved finance, a saving is not expenditure that is not made; it is simply expenditure that remains expenditure, usually remains with the department that has made the saving and gets spent on something else. No one who is out in the street should think that they will be able to spend a little more in 2005 or 2008 because the Executive has made a saving. They will not see a penny piece of it.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

I am sorry, but I will not take any more interventions.

The Executive's answer is that the savings will be spent on delivering more front-line services, but for several years, in successive budgets, the Executive has boasted about successive increases in expenditure, because of the enormous improvements in public services that they would enable it to deliver. The trouble is—and the evidence is all around us, out there in the health service and elsewhere—that in the Executive's hands, more spending does not mean more or better services. We have had years of expenditure increases that have been fuelled by substantial increases in taxation—particularly council tax, but also every other stealth tax that the Government and our paymasters in Westminster can get away with. After all these years of increases, we are entitled to ask the Executive whether, if it is genuinely to make the savings—there is a big question mark over that—it is not about time to give a little back to the people who put us here in the first place and who eventually pay all our bills. If the Executive cannot do that, we are entitled to conclude that the initiative is just more smoke and mirrors from the usual front-bench suspects.

I move amendment S2M-2093.1, to leave out "welcomes" and insert:


Photo of Brian Monteith Brian Monteith Conservative 3:21 pm, 2nd December 2004

I cannot start without mentioning the ministerial behaviour in appearing reluctantly before Parliament to tell us about the Government's plans for further inefficiency. Not only was the statement postponed and then delivered outside the Parliament, but when the proposals were released on Monday, the details were not made available to members in the Scottish Parliament information centre until very late in the day. If we cannot have efficiency in meeting simple parliamentary courtesies, what faith should we have in the minister to deliver the savings about which he boasts?

It is odd that efficiency has suddenly become important after seven years of Labour in power. Could it be that maybe—just maybe—the wheels are beginning to come off Gordon Brown's wagon? Money is becoming tighter and tax receipts are faltering because Labour has hurt the economy. The chancellor's finances are in a mess and, with desperation, efficiency is back on the agenda as a way to find more finance.

I am always keen to welcome savings to the public purse, but the proposed savings are not real; they will mean more waste. Tom McCabe shuffles the spending pack, but he still has 52 cards, while he and his deputy remain the jokers. We are not laughing and we are not fooled. The minister's proposals are unbelievable without cutting programmes that have failed and are known to be wasteful. The proposals are incredible without reducing manpower when we know that the administration in many layers of government has increased or is superfluous. What is proposed is not savings, for the money will not return to the taxpayer.

The minister behaves like a man in a bar who saves his money simply by moving it from one pocket to another. He does not do that to have the bus fare to go home or to put it away for a rainy day. He proceeds to buy the same round of drinks that he would have bought anyway, by putting both hands in both pockets. The money is being shuffled about.

Having decided to cut back on the Buckfast, ministers now think that they can buy some Martini instead. The Executive is composed of politicians who are drunk on taxpayers' money. They cannot get enough of it and they cannot have it quickly enough. They are lush politicians whose binge spending is a social menace.

I have a better idea: the Executive and its ministers should dry out. They should seek help. The first step is to cut spending and take it to more tolerable levels. We know—or at least I believe—that alcohol in moderation is good for us. So, too, is Government spending. It is necessary and can do good, but only in moderation. Spending can be reduced by cutting unnecessary programmes and reducing the size and scope of the Government. If the economy is allowed to grow, revenues will grow, too.

The First Minister suggested earlier that the Conservatives would make savings by cutting money from the education budget. That has to be corrected. The accusation, also made by Peter Peacock, was that we would cut spending by some £600 million. However, our public proposals state that school spending that currently costs £600 million and is funded by councils through the council tax should be funded by central Government. That would mean that education would receive the same level of funding, but that council tax, not education, could be cut by £600 million. We know that that can be afforded because Mr McCabe has said that he will find an average annual saving of £577 million for the next three years. That is within striking distance of the £600 million council tax cut that we are proposing. We know from the Barnett consequentials that a further £75 million will be coming north of the border. So there we have it. We know that we can fund council tax cuts to the tune of £600 million without making any impact on the delivery of education. I have laid that out quite plainly and I wait to see how the ministers will correct that.

Photo of Brian Monteith Brian Monteith Conservative

The member is not a minister, thankfully. I must finish, but I might be able to take his intervention in a moment.

If ministers choose to present our proposal as a cut in education funding, they are either ignorantly misrepresenting our position or they are lying intentionally. I cannot bring myself to believe that a Labour minister would lie to the chamber, so I can only suppose that they have been ignorantly misrepresenting our position for the past few weeks.

Before I conclude, I cannot miss the opportunity to say something about the SNP. What does the SNP have to say today about efficiency savings? Their amendment would change one word of the minister's motion. That is it; just one word. The SNP is as drunk on taxpayers' money as the rest of the socialists. The SNP is not in Opposition; it also wants to buy everyone a round with someone else's money, just like the Government. It might change the currency, but the round would cost the same. Do not make me laugh. It is risible and comical and the SNP is an apology for an Opposition.

The Conservative Opposition—the real Opposition—will offer real savings and real tax cuts.

I move amendment S2M-2093.2, to leave out from "and endorses" to end and insert:

"believes that such efficiency savings can only be made if there is a substantial reduction in the scope and size of government in Scotland, and therefore calls on the Scottish Executive to move away from its target culture of intervention and interference as well as to end the monopoly provision of public services in order to ensure better value for money."

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP 3:27 pm, 2nd December 2004

It is vital to put on record immediately the role of all public workers in delivering essential public services to the people of Scotland. Our recognition means that we reject from the outset the artificial notion that some workers in public services are more worthy than others because they are front-line workers rather than administration or backroom workers.

Firefighters who are very much in the front line depend upon control-room staff so that they can do their jobs efficiently and professionally. Any talk, as there appears to be in the spending proposals document, of reductions in the number of control rooms in Scotland will lead to a reduction in fire safety, not to a more efficient service.

The doctors and consultants about whom the Executive talks so lyrically would not be able to do their jobs properly if not for the medical secretaries who work in the back rooms to ensure that their services run efficiently. The pensions and benefits counter staff rely on the calculations and information that are provided by workers who sit behind the screens in the benefits and pensions offices. The social workers of Scotland would not be able to deal professionally with their human case loads without professional clerking and administrative support, so let us reject out of hand the idea that public service workers who are in the back room or the back office are somehow less vital than those on the front line.

Public service workers perform essential roles in maintaining and improving our society every single day, some face to face with people and others behind the scenes. It is interesting to consider our own positions and how we as politicians would perform in Parliament if it were not for the research and support staff who provide us with the essential assistance that we need to make speeches and to make our points. The same goes for the rest of the public services.

The purpose of our amendment is not to oppose efficiency savings or better-quality public service delivery; it is to insist that any so-called savings or improvements be made in partnership with the workers who deliver the services and not against them. The Executive has a slogan—"make work pay." In the context of the document, that slogan really means "make the workers pay". It means that we should make them pay through reduced numbers of jobs, increased stress and unfair political attacks.

It is insulting that in publishing the document the Executive used a panel of 17 so-called experts—whose salaries are between, at minimum, £50,000 and more than £100,000 a year—to comment on the futures of public service workers whose salaries are between £13,000 and £15,000 a year. It is a disgrace that that panel of so-called experts did not include a single trade union representative to contribute to the expert advice that is contained in the document. How many jobs are up for the chop as a result of that document? It promises £1.7 billion of savings, so how many jobs does that mean? The minister must answer.

It really shows how new Labour has changed when the Chancellor of the Exchequer announces at Westminster, to the cheers of the people on his front benches, that there will be 104,000 job losses. If a private company were to announce so many job losses, there would be hell to pay to those same members of Parliament. On 12 July, the chancellor said in his statement:

"with reductions also in back office and related areas; and with the 2.5 per cent efficiency savings applied also to the settlement for local government in England, this allows ... in addition to the 84,150 posts"—[Official Report, House of Commons, 12 July 2004; Vol 423, c 1130.]

reductions in the devolved Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland amounting to a further 20,000 posts. The minister must tell us today whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer consulted the Executive before announcing the loss of 20,000 jobs. We believe—because we were told so—that he consulted the Scottish Administration, so how many of those 20,000 jobs will be lost in Scotland?

The minister must also tell us in relation to partnership and involvement how many meetings he has had with the trade unions to discuss this level of so-called savings? Has he met the trade unions? Will he meet the trade unions? Does he stick to the promise of the previous incumbent of his office, who said clearly on 24 August that any savings that departments make will be available to reinvest in those departments. What we read on page 57 of "Building a Better Scotland: Spending Proposals 2005-2008" contradicts that completely. It says that any savings that are made in departments will go immediately to front-line services and to "other public services". That is robbing Peter to pay Paul, but that is the ruse that is represented in the document.

If the minister really wants to make efficiency savings, why not start with the nursery nurses, who deserve a national pay bargain? Instead of that, 32 different local authorities are conducting different wage negotiations. Why not start in the colleges? Instead of having 46 different levels of pay bargaining in those 46 colleges, let us have unified national pay bargaining for our colleges. Why not start in his own department? He is responsible for signing off 20 separate civil and public services pay agreements. Why does he not merge them, as the unions want, into one national unified round of pay bargaining? Those are the types of efficiencies that we need.

If the minister wants to go further, he should consider the waste in private finance initiatives. We are using £5.8 billion more of taxpayers' money because we use PFI instead of proper public procurement. We can make savings not by making the workers pay but by defending and developing public services. That is why I move amendment S2M-2093.3, to insert at end:

"but believes that such efficiency, effectiveness and productivity will only be delivered with the co-operation and involvement of the workers who deliver these public services and not by attacking them or slashing the number of workers employed in these services; further believes that public service workers embody all that is good about our small country and that they should be properly paid and recognised for the essential duties they perform; rejects any suggestion that reducing workforces improves effectiveness, efficiency or productivity but does believe that such action reduces the quality and scope of public services available to citizens across Scotland, and further believes that the privatisation of public services to date has proved clearly that public provision is superior in relation to both efficiency and quality and that further privatisation should therefore be opposed."

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat 3:35 pm, 2nd December 2004

Before I was elected, I ran a small business. The bottom line counted: we had to be efficient and drive out costs wherever we could, while providing good services to our clients. Efficiency and good service were in our small business's interests.

My view of running a business should be no different from that of a chief executive of a public agency. Sometimes agencies, Government departments and councils talk about "our money", but that money is not their money; they have no rights over it and are able to spend it only because the people have agreed to share resources for the common wealth. We are promoting innovation, ambition and entrepreneurialism for businesses in Scotland and we should do exactly the same for the public sector.

We should be proud that we can, because we share our combined wealth in Scotland and the United Kingdom, provide public services, offer support to vulnerable people, provide public transport and other infrastructure investments, and establish a national health service for everyone regardless of their wealth or privileged place in society. However, we should never lose sight of the fact that there is no excuse for waste, profligacy and mismanagement in delivering services in the public sector. There should be efficiency in government, which is why on behalf of the Liberal Democrats I warmly welcome the Executive's review report.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

The member welcomed the report on behalf of the Liberal Democrats. In the parliamentary debate at stage 1 of the Fire (Scotland) Bill in November, the Deputy Minister for Justice, Hugh Henry, said that before taking a decision on the number of control rooms there would be

"a further round of consultation".—[Official Report, 18 November 2004; c 11988.]

However, the Executive's document on efficient government commits the Executive to a reduction in the number of control rooms "from the current 8". Will the member clarify Executive policy on the matter?

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat

Mr Neil knows that the review has not yet been concluded and that dialogue continues on policy on fire services. Of course the Scottish National Party could have raised that matter in its amendment. We considered the Conservative and Scottish Socialist Party amendments, which offer alternative approaches to ours, but the SNP amendment would simply replace the word "welcomes" with the word "notes". In her first speech as deputy leader of the SNP, Nicola Sturgeon said:

"We will hold the Executive to account on all those issues and more, but we will do more than simply oppose. We will be constructive and we will offer alternatives."—[Official Report, 7 September 2004; c 9900.]

We know now that she meant that the SNP would offer the word "notes" as an alternative to "welcomes". Alasdair Morgan, Jim Mather and others are conscientious parliamentarians and I know that they will be busily working on alternatives to the review, which they will present to Parliament in due course.

I am glad that the minister quashed the erroneous comments about triple accounting. I did not say that there had been triple accounting, as Alasdair Morgan suggested; that was the view of commentators. I have read and reread the document and all I can see is that the Executive has added up identified cumulative savings over a three-year period. SNP members are an ungrateful lot: I thought that the Executive was just being kind to them, because we know that they have difficulties in adding up financial commitments—mainly their own. The Executive published the data in a clear table. We add up three columns: year 1, year 2 and year 3—I hope that the SNP is following the explanation. There will be savings of £405 million in year 1, of £582 million in year 2 and of £745 million in year 3. The figures are added up under the heading "Total Aggregate Cash Savings" and the magic figure of £1.732 billion materialises.

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat

No, I must make progress.

The cash savings figure is 2.7 per cent over the three years of the spending review period, compared to 2.5 per cent in the UK Gershon review. That is a clear response to the remarks of commentators this week.

The Executive's presentation of anticipated savings is far clearer than that of the Gershon review or the UK Government's response to it. The Executive's review is better than the UK Government's review, because it focuses on services and is not predicated on job losses and the size of the civil service. We should have the right people doing the right jobs and delivering the right services as efficiently as possible.

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat

I will give way if I have time at the end of my speech, but I want to make progress.

By calling in their motion for an increase in the number of civil servants who are to be sacked, the Tories are questioning the 3,500 additional nurses and midwives who have been taken on since 1999, the 1,100 additional doctors since 1999, the increase in the number of teachers in our schools and the record high number of police officers. Liberal Democrats ask whether services can be provided differently; for example, on a local basis with community planning, on a regional basis between local authorities, and at national level with Scottish Executive procurement and a different way of working. The review is predicated on a very different way of working, not on job losses. That is welcome.

In the long term, this approach is better for the administration of government. The Gershon proposals for every department start with the number of posts that are to be discarded. My Liberal Democrat colleague at Westminster, Vince Cable, asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give more details of the grades of the jobs that it is proposed be lost, because it is feared that they will be the jobs of lower-grade administrative staff who have been recruited precisely because the UK Government has made the administration of government more complicated, especially in the Department for Work and Pensions and the Treasury. The Executive's document presents more detailed explanations of where genuine efficiency savings will be realised through changes in practice. If those changes release posts, it will be because Government has become less complicated and more efficient. We can achieve both not by centralising collection of council tax but by abolishing it and replacing it with a more efficient local income tax.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

it is clear that the member and I will not agree on cumulative presentation of figures. However, if he is so wedded to it, does he recommend to councils that they should, when they send out their council tax bills, say what has been the cumulative increase since the Executive came to power in 1999, as well as what this year's increase will be?

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat

In my last seconds, I will say exactly what I think local councils should do: they should follow the lead of Scottish Borders Council. Two years ago, the Scottish Court Service announced a decision to close Peebles sheriff court because the building was too expensive to maintain. The then Liberal Democrat Minister for Justice called a halt to the decision and my predecessor MSP worked with Scottish Borders Council, local justices, the community, Lothian and Borders police, the Scottish Court Service and the Justice Department. Scottish Borders Council took the lead and pulled together the team to produce a proposal for a collocated facility for all services. Mr McCabe's predecessor gave capital approval to the project and we now have a new facility of collocated justice services. That is good for the Borders, good for Peebles and good for government. That pioneering facility will lead the way. I remind the SNP that at that time, my SNP opponent—a certain Ms Grahame—

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

Mr Purvis, you do not have time to remind them. Please sit down.

Photo of Ted Brocklebank Ted Brocklebank Conservative 3:42 pm, 2nd December 2004

When, at a meeting of the Finance Committee, I asked the new Minister for Finance and Public Service Reform whether he would live up to Jack McConnell's boast that the Scottish Executive would go further than the Gershon recommendations on UK government efficiency, Mr McCabe claimed that he was not interested in comparisons with Westminster. Now, nearly two months on, it seems that the new minister is interested in a virility contest after all. He says that the Executive is going even further than Jack McConnell proposed and that he plans to make efficiencies worth £745 million a year by 2008 and up to £1.7 billion-worth of savings in the three years that the chancellor's savings cover.

Apparently, before the Executive can make such savings, it will have to spend the small matter of £60 million to help public bodies to work out how they may save money. What happens if the consultants come back with the wrong answers or conclude that it cannot be done unless there are unacceptable numbers of job cuts? Doubtless, the minister will eventually explain that.

The Conservatives welcome government efficiency proposals, but is it in the nature of the beast that we have come to know as the Scottish Executive suddenly to become the frugal Scottish sister of Gordon Brown's long-term mistress, prudence? Let us consider its record. By any standards, so far it has effectively muddied the waters on its efficiency pledges. First we are told that Scotland is already efficient, then we are told that although there will be civil service cuts across the UK, that will not be the case in Scotland. Then, Jack McConnell tells us that we will find more efficiency savings than England and then, his new Minister for Finance and Public Service Reform casts doubt on that suggestion. Now Tom says that he will be even more virile than Jack; he will make even bigger savings. What is going on? Why do I hear that old "Porgy and Bess" number running through my head? Members will remember the one—"It Ain't Necessarily So." We must always remember that line when we consider statements by the Executive.

The proposals are made even harder to swallow by Jack McConnell's statement on 28 June 2004 to the Fraser of Allander institute that he did not believe that public sector job cuts were necessary. Although he seemed to accept that the public sector is too big—51 per cent of Scotland's economy compared with 41 per cent in England—he declared that the way to rebalance things was not to shrink the public sector but to grow the private sector, apparently while having no strategy to achieve that. However, at last we have Tom McCabe telling The Times:

"I have been quite specific—I have said we expect to see an increasing number of people working in the frontline, but less people overall."

Surely nothing could be clearer than that. Despite what the First Minister told the Fraser of Allander institute, and despite his fudging of the question at this morning's First Minister's question time, that must mean job cuts, so surely all that we are discussing now is how many jobs and where they are going to fall.

There is another point, which Jeremy Purvis and Alasdair Morgan picked up on. How can the minister argue that his accounting is transparent when no less an authority than Professor Arthur Midwinter, who advises the Finance Committee, claims, in effect, that cumulative creative accounting techniques have been used to reach the very efficiency targets that the minister has spelled out? Have the Executive's figures been triple counted or not? It is clear that they have, although the minister still seems to be in denial. Even accepting the figures, Jack McConnell promised that the Executive would make bigger cuts than Westminster, but Tom McCabe's proposed cuts amount to 4 per cent over the period, whereas the equivalent London figure is 7 per cent. Back to "Porgy and Bess" again—"It Ain't Necessarily So".

The truth is that the best predictor of future behaviour is past performance, so how can we have any confidence in the Executive's promises? Since 1999 there has been an increase of £58 million in administration, an increase of 1,057 Scottish Executive staff, an increase of 556 civil servants, and an additional £137 million spent on quangos. That is without mentioning a Parliament building that has cost £390 million more than it should have cost. The vast bulk of the savings that are proposed by the Minister for Finance and Public Service Reform are explained by procurement improvements or sharing support services. There is no radical agenda to reduce the scope, and therefore the size, of government.

Tom McCabe should come clean. If the Executive genuinely wants to increase efficiency, it has to stop tinkering at the edges. It has to explain exactly how it expects local authorities to achieve a 3 per cent efficiency saving and it has to have the courage to give an honest estimate of the number of jobs that will have to go. Gordon Brown says that the figure is 70,000 jobs for the UK as a whole. Are we looking at 10 per cent of that figure—7,000 job losses—here in Scotland? Tommy Sheridan is right to ask where the axe will fall. Will we lose 7,000 jobs? Will it be 10,000? Will it be 20,000? One thing is for sure: if the Executive continues to try to spin the bizarre concept of a magical promised land where it is possible for a declining private sector to support an increasingly bloated public sector, on this side of the chamber the response will continue to be, "It Ain't Necessarily So", and certainly should not be so.

Photo of Des McNulty Des McNulty Labour 3:48 pm, 2nd December 2004

The Executive's strategy, as set out in the revised version of "The Framework for Economic Development in Scotland"—FEDS—which was published earlier this year, is one of

"managing public finances, so that we are efficient and effective in procuring and providing public services and investment".

The Finance Committee strongly supported that approach, and concluded in its stage 1 report that it is

"imperative to seek continuous improvement in the efficiency of public expenditure".

I therefore welcome the focus in Tom McCabe's speech on identifying and implementing major improvements in service delivery and in back room and support processes, which will release resources for the enhancement of front-line services.

One would have thought that no one with any interest in or knowledge of the management of public services could disagree, although I suppose we had to expect that the Tories, who spent the 1980s and 1990s hacking away at public services, would prefer tax cuts to making improvements in public services. However, it is strange that this morning Nicola Sturgeon joined the Conservatives in calling for tax cuts. That is a remarkable volte-face, as we can see in the SNP amendment, which seeks to change "welcomes" to "notes", as Brian Monteith said. Has the SNP become more red blooded, like the Tories, and taken the stance of looking to cut and chop away at public service jobs and the services on which people depend, or is that simply an extension of the SNP approach, which is to be two-faced about everything? Nicola Sturgeon is for tax cuts, Jim Mather is for business rate cuts, Shona Robison opposes rationalisation in hospital services, Fergus Ewing wants reductions in water rates and John Swinney wants more to be spent on dealing with business constraints. The SNP has a different policy for every issue, but they all depend on spending more money. The strategy that the SNP has is to have no strategy.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

Far be it from me to accuse the Labour Party of spending more money, but will the member share his opinion on whether taxation should ever be cut?

Photo of Des McNulty Des McNulty Labour

Decisions on taxation always involve a balance between what services are needed and whether they can be afforded. Ultimately, the public decides that in deciding who to put in Government. This country has put the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrat party in Government consistently since devolution, while support for the SNP has been slipping away, which I believe is because the party has little credibility.

We support public services and we want the Executive to seek continually to increase the effectiveness with which resources are used. A key aspect of that is the adoption of more innovative and effective delivery mechanisms. Every time a difficult decision is to be made, the SNP ducks. That stance has no credibility; we need to engage with the issues and not in the fantasy economics in which breaking economic and political ties with our neighbours and main customers somehow provides benefits for businesses and public services in Scotland.

Many of the measures that Tom McCabe mentioned that aim to bring public services together and link mechanisms have been made necessary because of the destructive approach of the Conservatives during the reorganisation of local government in 1996. That party proclaims the advantages of the greater efficiency of the business approach, yet it replaced a single director of education in the then Strathclyde Regional Council with 12 directors of education, and a single director of social work with 12 directors. Tom McCabe was one of the local authority leaders in the Strathclyde area who, like me, had to manage the destruction that was caused, which resulted in considerable growth in administrative overheads and a reduction in the quality of services for ordinary people.

It is absolutely right that, in considering how to improve the efficiency of local government, the Executive intends to bring the delivery of services closer together. However, Parliament must scrutinise closely the way in which that is done. A balance must be struck between ensuring that the right approach is adopted and ensuring that services are protected properly. I hope that, when we get the technical information that Mr McCabe promised will be provided in January or February, the Finance Committee and Parliament will consider the proposals carefully. We want to ensure not only that £745 million is directed more productively but that, as far as possible, protection is provided for employees and services and that clear evidence of enhancement is given. We will monitor the process extraordinarily carefully to ensure that the Executive does the right things in the right way for Scotland.

Comparisons between Scotland and south of the border are to some extent irrelevant; we must focus on what is best in our circumstances. We should focus our attention on the £745 million and on the moneys that are to be saved in the lead-up—£405 million and £582 million in the next two years. Achievement of such savings in that short space of time will require considerable work in its own right. The Minister for Finance and Public Service Reform and the Finance Committee have a considerable amount of work to do to ensure not only that we meet the targets that have been set, but that we achieve the intended effect.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party 3:55 pm, 2nd December 2004

Of all the members of the Scottish Parliament, I am the one who has been prepared to face up to the electoral realities that confronted my party. I represent my constituency on the back benches these days, because my party's election performance was not as great as it should have been. I can face up to that, so it is only fair that Des McNulty should accept that Labour's support in Scotland is slipping away—to coin a phrase—in that it lost six parliamentary constituencies in the 2003 Scottish Parliament elections. How can everything in the garden be rosy when the electorate showed its enthusiasm by not returning those Labour candidates to power? Talk of Labour and the Liberal Democrats' steadfast stewardship of the economy and the public services is drivel.

I welcome the debate and the fact that it is being led by Mr McCabe. I think that it would be a fair reflection of public opinion in Scotland to say that Mr McCabe was considered as an effective leader of South Lanarkshire Council and that he was a leader who introduced a great deal of innovation in the delivery of public services. I hope that, in the course of the debate that ensues after today's debate, Mr McCabe will lead a process that is equally imaginative and innovative in the delivery of our public services in Scotland today.

The Government is trying to have it both ways. In effect, Mr McCabe argued that, suddenly, this is the moment at which we must look for efficiency. However, he also told us that everything that had been done in the previous five years was fabulous. If that is the case, we are entitled to know what cataclysmic event led the Government to believe that suddenly—in December 2004—it is time for efficiency. We have not heard the answer to that question.

Much of what is in the document is the sort of stuff that ministers—there are plenty of them—should be doing every day of the week. The job of ministers is to guarantee that public money is being spent effectively on behalf of the people of Scotland; it is nothing imaginative, nothing bright and nothing revolutionary—it is just good housekeeping to guarantee that public services are being delivered efficiently. We are entitled to ask for a bit of ambition and vision from the Administration that has been entrusted to deliver those services on our behalf.

A great deal of criticism has been levelled at my party for the formulation of our amendment to the motion. I venture to say that, given the rather dull parliamentary arithmetic of our Parliament, the wording of amendments does not matter very much. We tend to know the outcome of votes, which leads me to question why we should spend a great deal of energy on the wording of amendments.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I agree, Mr Morgan—and I would expect nothing less of you.

If we were to look back into the annals of history, as some political commentators have been prepared to do, we would find that much of the language and argument that underpin the document that Mr McCabe published on Monday was set out before the 1999 election campaign by none other than myself as the SNP's Treasury spokesperson. I argued that the approach that should be taken should guarantee efficiency in the public services on an annual basis. How was that constructive contribution to the debate received at the time, however? It prompted some marvellous responses, including one from that well-known financial revolutionary on the Conservative front bench, Mr Monteith, who called it absurd and said:

"Patently the SNP believe they can get blood out of a stone."

Do not lecture me, Mr Monteith, on the subject of public sector efficiency.

A Labour spokesperson said that our manifesto commitments did not add up and that we would have to own up to the cuts that we would have to make in Scotland's public services. I look forward to a Labour member telling me about the cuts to public services that Labour is going to make. If no one does so, I invite Labour to withdraw the drivel that it churned out five years ago. If Mr Purvis wants me to share Mr Malcolm Bruce's remarks with him, I will send them to him in the post. Mr Bruce's words were as unworthy as all the rest were.

If we want to have a real political debate about efficiency in our public services, for heaven's sake, let us have the debate honestly and openly. I would be much more interested in a debate that developed some of the arguments that are not quite attributed to Mr McCabe in Douglas Fraser's article in The Herald today. In the article, Mr McCabe appears to offer up:

"the possibility of a radical change which would see councils given a much bigger say in the running of health boards."

I am very interested in how we can bring together local authority and health board services in a much more thematic and cohesive way, as that would take away the barriers that annoy to death the constituents whom we represent. None of that imagination is in the document before us today.

I am very interested in the proposals that have been advanced by the First Minister of Wales. We have long argued for such measures for the slicing down of the quango state and the removal of the ludicrous duplication that takes place, with members of staff in the Scottish Executive civil service monitoring, duplicating and replicating the work that goes on in quangos. Why on earth do we not merge the areas of activity concerned and streamline and simplify government in Scotland? I could not disagree more with Mr Purvis, who said that the government of Scotland is less complicated than it was. The government of Scotland has become more complicated since devolution. This bloated Executive has created that expansion of congested government.

I seek a system that delivers real value to the people of Scotland, but we must be careful about how we achieve that. We must avoid the absurd language of job cuts that was thrown at the SNP in 1999, which can quite easily be thrown at the Government now. The processes of changing the roles of individuals in public service can be managed if we have imagination and direction. That is done in the private sector and it can be done in the public service. It will need something a great deal more imaginative, however, than the drivel in the document before us.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat 4:01 pm, 2nd December 2004

I am a little confused about this debate. Nobody, with perhaps the exception of Tommy Sheridan, has spoken to the amendments in their name. The SNP has criticised and attacked the Executive's motion, yet it wishes to change only one word in it, from "welcomes" to "notes". SNP members have not done their work. It is not efficient just to change one word of a motion and not to propose alternatives. It is an insult for the SNP not to state its alternatives, so that the people of Scotland could find out what the SNP would do differently from the Executive's proposals. That is not efficient—that is lazy.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

If Mr Smith had been present at First Minister's question time, as I was, he would have heard what the SNP proposes to do with an element of the savings: freeze the council tax. Do the Liberal Democrats support that or not?

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

I am delighted to have been asked that question, because it means that I have a good opportunity to attack the SNP on that policy. The SNP proposes that an SNP Executive would tell councils what level of council tax they should set. That is more like a Conservative policy. The SNP proposes to cap council tax and to tell local authorities what they may spend. I will never support that policy. I believe, and will continue to believe, that local authorities have the right to set their council tax and to determine whether their level of spending is appropriate for their area.

If a local authority wishes to use its efficiency savings to reduce its council tax, that option is open to it. We should not, however, dictate such things to local authorities. I am afraid that the SNP has got this one wrong. Its members have not thought the matter through. Perhaps they should ask SNP councillors in places such as Angus what they think about the prospect of their council tax being capped.

The debate should be about partnership between councils, the health service, Scottish Enterprise, local enterprise companies and other public bodies as they work together to find better ways of doing the things that they all have to do. Let us consider e-procurement. A vast amount of money can be saved through people working together using e-procurement to reduce costs to local government and the health service.

People can work together to reduce the costs of human resources and payrolls. I would say to Ted Brocklebank that it is true that some money needs to be spent up front to do those things—we have to spend to save. If we are to create a more efficient payroll, we need to create the new payroll service. In the end, we will be able to get rid of two, three, four, five or perhaps a dozen other payroll services, but up-front spending will be required to achieve that—we cannot change things overnight with no cost. That is what the £60 million is there to do. It will allow for that spending to be made in order to save in the long run. That is a sensible approach.

Modernising and making services more efficient does not necessarily save money. In Fife, for example, occupational therapists now have palmtop computers, which they take with them when they see clients. That makes them more efficient, because they are able to see more clients. Occupational therapy will therefore cost more, because more clients are being dealt with and more services are being provided. That is a good thing, but being more efficient in that way does not necessarily save money. That is an important lesson for us to learn.

I turn to the various conservatives who spoke in the debate. I have talked about the SNP's new policy of attacking the freedom of councils to set their council tax. The SSP is perhaps another conservative party, given that conservative, in the traditional sense, means making no change. The SSP's policy, which is set out in its amendment, says in essence that public services cannot be changed, because changing them might affect somebody's job. If things were left to the SSP, somebody would be wandering around out on the streets tonight trying to light the gas lamps, which were removed several decades ago. That sort of blinkered thinking will get us nowhere. As for PFI, certain members should go and ask the residents of Anstruther whether they think that the new school that has been provided through a PFI is an improvement to public services. The school would not be there if it were not for PFI. Of course we would save money if we did not have PFI—because we would not have such new schools to run—but that would not benefit the public.

I turn to the other Conservatives. Brian Monteith seems to think that we can cut £600 million from a budget, but spend the same amount of money. We cannot do that; he is pulling the wool over the public's eyes. What the Conservatives are proposing is a cut in any terms. Taking £600 million off the council tax is a cut and the Conservatives have to make it much clearer why they intend to make it.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

It is not a cut in council tax; it is a cut in spending and the budget. There would be £600 million less in the public budget to spend. That is the simple equation.

Photo of Brian Monteith Brian Monteith Conservative

It is clear that the member is able to hear only what he wishes to hear. I also made it plain that the £600 million would be funded centrally. We would put £600 million in one hand and take £600 million out of the other. That means that the schools would still get the same money. The member should try to change his arithmetic and get it right next time.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

The arithmetic is simple: if we take £600 million away from the resources, we do not have it to spend. If we cut the council tax by £600 million, £600 million less is available to spend on public services in Scotland. That is a simple fact. Central Government does not have another £600 million in its back pocket. We would have to find the money from somewhere. By removing £600 million from public spending on improving public services, the Conservatives would cut those services, not improve them. That is the difference between the Liberal Democrat-Labour Executive and the Conservatives.

The Conservatives' real agenda, which they have not talked about in the debate, is privatisation. That is what their amendment talks about, but they were not even brave enough to say it in the debate. The one true thing that Ted Brocklebank said was that the best predictor of future behaviour is past performance. We know what the past performances of the Conservatives were. They will be rejected again in Scotland.

Photo of Margaret Jamieson Margaret Jamieson Labour 4:07 pm, 2nd December 2004

Since my election to the Parliament in 1999, I have been a member of the Audit Committee. A common theme in all the reports that come before the committee has escaped those in the many departments of the Scottish Executive. The concept of joined-up thinking and working has yet to permeate the silo mentality of the civil service.

We are here to meet challenges and make changes for the benefit of the Scottish people, irrespective of the barriers that are erected by those who want to continue with the old ways of working. The people whom we represent do not care which department is responsible for each part of the Scottish Executive; they want things delivered on time and with an immediate impact on their lives.

Public sector workers who deliver front-line services in health and local government are able to think outwith the silo. When assistance is required of the Scottish Executive, the silo mentality kicks in and some of that thinking is watered down to meet the silo criteria of each department.

My constituents in Kilmarnock and Loudon have first-hand experience of the innovative thinking that will deliver joined-up services. Policy makers and implementers in East Ayrshire Council and NHS Ayrshire and Arran have designed a local service for north-west Kilmarnock in the form of a centre that will offer sport, care for the elderly, housing, health and nursery services, to name but a few. The facility is the third such development by the partners and, on each occasion, the communities that will benefit have quickly developed their ideas into a firm proposal for funding. The delay occurs when the partners have to go their separate ways into the silos of the Scottish Executive and communities are left waiting to reap the benefits of the innovation.

We are aware that the barriers between local public sector organisations are becoming greyer by the month, with the advent of the joint future agenda, community planning and the soon-to-be-introduced community health partnerships. Why, then, should we stand still by continuing with the institutional Scottish Executive departments? I challenge the Parliament to ask why we continue with the existing barriers between local authorities. Why do we not look at the boundaries between local authorities, the NHS, the Scottish Enterprise network, area tourist boards and further education—to name but a few—and assess whether they are relevant to the delivery of services today? Should we continue with the plethora of variations of delivery processes and internal functions?

Joint procurement can operate—and is operating—in local government. The 12 local authorities in the former Strathclyde region have created the Authorities Buying Consortium—ABC—to procure for them and the savings that result are made available for each local authority to use locally in whatever way it wishes. Why could that not be extended to include other public sector organisations in the area? Why could we not go further and include the civil service and the Scottish Parliament?

As we move further towards joined-up working across traditional employment barriers, it is time to consider the employment of public sector workers. If the local authority holds their contract, their pension scheme is different from that of the colleague with whom they work each day, whose contract is with the national health service. All such institutional pension schemes are in the public sector, so why do we not have a Scottish public sector pension scheme to cover the whole public sector in Scotland? After all, in those pension schemes the deferred wages for public sector workers are paid for by the public purse irrespective of the public sector employer.

The expansion of best-value audit throughout the public sector will challenge many of the traditional ways of working and funding. We have an opportunity to demonstrate that we can do those things differently. We should not wait, as we have done in the past, until we are criticised by either the Auditor General for Scotland or those outside the Parliament. All the challenges can be overcome if the traditional barriers are removed. The Scottish people do not have the patience to wait until each part of the public sector agrees. They want and deserve responsive service delivery irrespective of who holds the public purse strings.

Photo of Mark Ballard Mark Ballard Green 4:13 pm, 2nd December 2004

Efficient government is something that we can all subscribe to. Nobody likes to see public money wasted, but what is up for debate today is how we achieve efficiencies. Do we conduct a campaign of cutting civil service jobs and hope that services do not suffer too much? Do we retain jobs but work people harder so that productivity increases, or are there other ways to think about efficiency and decide what we mean by efficient government?

Sir Peter Gershon's review of public sector efficiency, which was carried out at the UK level, identified some 80,000 jobs that could be cut. The review used the word "saved", but I imagine that the effect is much the same to the individuals concerned. The problem with such cuts is the effect that they might have on the quality and level of service to the public. All too often, rationalisation increases the distance between the service provider and the public and decreases quality in the process. It is the quality of public services that we should be most concerned about.

Iain Smith was right when he said that efficient government does not necessarily mean the cheapest possible form of government. We have seen that reorganisation in the name of cutting jobs and making cash savings may lead to a decline in quality. The Benefits Agency is the arm of the United Kingdom Government that has suffered the most from constant reorganisation in the name of savings. The latest is the move away from filling in forms to be processed locally to the use of telephone consultations to fill in the forms. No doubt that makes economic sense, but it means a decline in the quality of service, as those who have to fill in forms over the phone might find it more difficult to provide the required information. That is why it is important that we put quality first.

There are many good things in the Executive document that is up for debate. One of the key areas in the document is reducing absenteeism, and it is important that the document mentions the workplace environment and ensuring that people do not fall sick at work. It is important that we start by looking at the quality of the workplace environment as a way of reducing absenteeism rather than thinking that we merely have to crack down on some non-existent sick-note culture. I remind the Executive that one of the key causes of absence is stress, which is often caused by working in an environment in which staff numbers are not maintained and there are not enough staff to perform the jobs.

Although there are good things in the document, I find it frustrating to read. For example, the section on the communities portfolio says of one saving:

"Improvements to the planning system will streamline bureaucracy—with faster decisions, allowing quicker investment decisions, while strengthening the involvement of communities."

Everybody welcomes quicker decisions and I hope that everybody—perhaps apart from the Conservatives—would welcome involving communities at an earlier stage, but we need to know how that will happen. It is cited as a saving, but there is no detail on what the saving will amount to.

Another area that is mentioned in the document and which has been discussed this afternoon is procurement. I am pleased that the Scottish Executive has moved away from the Tory, cost-based procurement model, in which all that mattered was the cheapest provider, to the notion of best value, but that notion should be more thoroughly embedded in the document. We want greater smart, strategic use of procurement to invest in local, community and mutual enterprises. We want better use of the massive amount of money that central Government and local government procurement represent to benefit local economies and communities. That would be a much more efficient use of the funding. Therefore, I urge ministers to examine ways in which social enterprises can become active partners in public service provision and look at that as one way of making the most efficient use of public sector procurement.

Efficient government must be about high-quality services, so let us not talk about government efficiency in terms of reducing staff numbers or making cash savings. Instead, we should focus on maximising the economic and social benefit of government and ensuring that, pound for pound, the quality of service is maximised. That should be the true measure of efficient government.

Photo of Susan Deacon Susan Deacon Labour 4:19 pm, 2nd December 2004

I did not expect the debate to make me come over all nostalgic, but it has. I am amused—even pleased—that John Swinney chose to invoke the memory of the 1999 election campaign. I remember well the programme of efficiency measures that the Scottish National Party proposed in that election, but John Swinney failed to remind us what the SNP dubbed that programme. It was, of course, the Holyrood project, which strikes us now as somewhat prescient, because not only was it over time and over budget, but it never got to the starting blocks.

I felt nostalgic as I listened to the Tories engage in the debate. Many of us worked in and around the public sector during the years when the Conservatives were in office, and we remember what it was like to try to work in that environment. Not only was there declining spend; the Tories introduced flawed, ideology-driven mechanisms such as compulsory competitive tendering in local government and the internal market in the NHS. It is liberating, therefore, for us to have the opportunity to try to proceed with what will be, I hope, a positive and progressive agenda on efficiency in government. I am pleased that Labour politicians and Labour Governments north and south of the border have reclaimed the language of efficiency and effectiveness in our public services. I have always thought that those of us who believe most passionately in public services should work the hardest to achieve those ends.

I welcome the minister's statement and the Executive's commitment, but I have one big question. Frankly, I wish that we had had a ministerial statement to introduce this policy, so that there would have been further opportunities for us to question the minister directly. I will attempt to do so now. My question is not about why specific targets have been chosen or what the Executive hopes to achieve; it is about how the Executive will ensure that its programme is driven forward and how more truly efficient practice will come about as a result. At the risk of displaying my anorak credentials, I remind members that efficiency, in a literal sense, is about the relationship between inputs and outputs. It is always possible to reduce inputs when there is pressure to do so; people in public services have done that for years The challenge is to reduce inputs while, simultaneously, maintaining and improving—even increasing—outputs. Having read the documentation carefully, I have yet to see just where, as Des McNulty put it, some of the delivery mechanisms for meeting that challenge are.

I have read the Gershon review and a lot of the material that has been produced south of the border about the work that is being done. I agree absolutely that we must craft our own way forward in Scotland; however, if one reads the Gershon review—which I am sure the minister has done at length—one sees that a great deal of attention has been paid to the way in which the machinery of and the cultures in government will be developed to ensure that real efficiency is achieved. Attention has been paid to the way in which momentum and capacity will be put in place to secure real improvements in efficiency. However, I do not see some of that evidence set out explicitly in the Executive's programme.

I note—and we should all remind ourselves—that it is not so long since we discussed the Fraser report. I welcomed then, and I support again now, the firm and bold statements that were made at that time by the First Minister to ensure that civil service reform was given top priority, not least in the wake of that report. Let us remind ourselves of the evidence that that report presented us with about the lack of capacity in central Government to manage projects and people effectively and to have in place the specialist skills that are necessary to enable modern and effective management. For the avoidance of doubt, I say—as I have said before—that that is not to suggest that the prevailing culture or practice in the civil service means that individuals in it are bad people: far from it; they are very committed public servants. Nonetheless, the world has changed, and if we are to deliver the kind of modern public services that are set out in the Executive's document, as with many other policies, there must be the capacity in the machinery of government to do so. I would like to hear what the Executive has to say on that. We have the expert advisory group and the initiative that the minister has announced today regarding e-procurement; however, frankly, a review by one individual is not the same as embedding those skills and that capacity at the heart of government.

Like Margaret Jamieson, I have sat on the Audit Committee—although not for as long as she has—and have joined in the group therapy sessions that we have had there. I make a plea to the minister to try to avoid reinventing the wheel in this policy area. As a member of the Audit Committee, I have been shocked—I put it no less strongly than that—to see the lamentable progress that has been made, over the past few years, in certain areas that are mentioned in the report that is before us today, such as changes in prescribing practice. I do not think that that is the result of a lack of political will or a lack of policy. I am not even convinced that it is the result of a lack of investment. Nevertheless, something somewhere is stopping the implementation of policies to which ministers and, often, the Parliament are committed. That is the issue that we need to get behind, instead of having yet another review of policy.

I also urge the minister and others who engage in this debate to be very careful about language and attitudes. For example, we should not refer to admin savings or talk about administration and management as if they were bad things. We need good administration and management if we are to deliver good public services and I want us to dispense with some of the simplistic shorthand that we use all too often.

Finally, I ask for the minister's assurance that he will emphasise the importance of information technology. I am talking not just about e-procurement, about which we have heard an awful lot this afternoon. For example, I have been struck by the difference in the investment in and the machinery for e-health projects north and south of the border. We share common objectives and I want them to be achieved.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

We must go to closing speeches. We are a couple of minutes behind the clock, so I give Mr Sheridan a very tight six minutes.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP 4:25 pm, 2nd December 2004

I would like to pick up on a couple of points that Susan Deacon made at the end of her speech. She said that we should move away from simplistic shorthand descriptions of admin workers and management. She might not have heard the First Minister refer earlier to the Trotskys at the back of the chamber who would employ more administrators than doctors and nurses. I do not think that such comments are helpful to this debate. As she correctly pointed out, if we really want quality public services, we need quality back-office staff as well as quality front- room staff who interface with the public. We cannot have one without the other.

Photo of Susan Deacon Susan Deacon Labour

Just as we should be careful that we do not dispense blanket phrases about administrators for the reasons that the member has mentioned, we should also be careful that we do not come out with blanket statements about managers, many of whom are trying to do a good job in the public sector.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

I do not have a problem with that. We employ public service managers to manage public services. If they manage them well, the public gets a good deal. However, the crux of this debate should be the question of what happens if they do not manage them well.

Much of this discussion has not been about reinventing the wheel but about trying to manage services better. We are angry about the £1.7 billion of savings that have been announced, because we do not think that they are evidence-based. There have been no discussions with the front-line workers who deliver the services. Instead, the document in question refers to department heads and advice from 17 experts, but I do not think that that is good enough if we are talking about targets that we are apparently determined to achieve. If achieving those targets means that we have to reduce the number of front-line or back-office workers, that will not lead to better or more efficient services.

It would have been better if there had been a ministerial statement, as that would have allowed us to question the minister directly. I asked a number of questions in my opening speech that have not yet been answered because the minister has not had the opportunity to reply. I have also been hoping to speak to Mr Purvis about page 25 of the efficient government document, which refers to the Scottish Public Pensions Agency. The agency was relocated from Edinburgh to Galashiels only two years ago and employs only 120 workers. However, page 25 states that efficiency savings of £600,000 will be made there. I want to know how we will make such savings out of such a small department.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

I would love to give way to the member, but he did not have the courtesy to give way to me. My time is much more limited than his.

I want the minister to tell us whether Mr Brown consulted the Scottish Executive before he announced an extra 20,000 job losses on 12 July, which will include job losses at the Scottish devolved Administration. We are told that he did so; indeed, that is what the trade union movement has been told. However, we in the chamber deserve to know whether the chancellor discussed the matter with the Executive, because he cannot simply pluck a figure out of the air and say that 20,000 jobs will go in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. We have a right to know how many of those jobs are in Scotland. I hope that the minister will address that point later.

Members have talked about the need to make efficiency savings, but on the employment of consultants, for instance, we know now that the amount of money that is spent at the UK level on consultants within the public services rose from £650 million the previous year to £1.3 billion last year. That means that £3 million a day is being spent on consultants—the equivalent figure for Scotland is £300,000 a day. I do not think that that represents the good and efficient use of public moneys, particularly when so much expertise within the public services is often overlooked.

I will finish on an issue that is vital for and central to the whole idea of public money, but which is unfortunately not within the ambit of the Scottish Parliament. We have a major problem across the UK in connection with tax evasion. The multimillionaire class thinks that taxes are only for the wee people. Big businesses arrange their accounts to ensure that they are in Bermuda, Jersey or the Isle of Man so that they do not have to pay their corporation taxes. The figures involved amount to between £25 billion and £85 billion a year. What is the Westminster Government's response to that glaring problem? It is to announce that there will be 40,500 fewer workers in the Inland Revenue and HM Customs and Excise. That news is music to the ears of the multimillionaires who are evading their taxes. We should address not only such action across the UK but the issue here in Scotland that privatisation costs more money and does not save us money. That is why we should keep the services in the public sector and why our amendment should be supported.

Photo of Cathie Craigie Cathie Craigie Labour 4:32 pm, 2nd December 2004

I welcome the opportunity to take part in the debate on efficient government. Efficient and effective government at whatever level is something that, this morning, I would have thought we all supported. The more efficient the service, the better the support for the public who depend on that service. However, after hearing some of the speeches in the debate, it is clear that some of my colleagues in other parties do not support measures that will allow for better public services.

The document that the Executive published on Monday sets out clearly the Executive's ambitions. High goals have been set, but they are achievable. Surely it is not an impossible task to achieve more efficiencies, cut out waste and reduce bureaucracy and duplication and, by doing that, deliver better services to the public with, as the document states,

"The right staff, with the right skills."

Achieving efficient government is not about job cuts, but about ensuring that staff are doing the right jobs. I am delighted that the Executive has committed to investing in new skills for those whose jobs may change because of the process. I am also pleased that the Executive will continue to consult trade unions on changes that will affect staff. Indeed, with a Labour-led Executive, I would expect nothing else.

Our public sector workers are highly valued and the drive for efficient government should allow them to use their skills and potential to the full. Indeed, I have spoken to public sector workers who see waste and inefficiencies in the departments in which they work. They know the solutions to those inefficiencies, but they are not listened to. Let their voices be heard and let them join in the redesign of services from the back office to the front office, as the First Minister put it today. Tommy Sheridan also mentioned that earlier. We should let the managers, the workers and the service users become involved in improving and modernising the delivery of services. That is what efficient government and efficient polices are about.

As I said, achieving efficient government is not about job cuts. The drive for efficiency has provided an increase in the number of nurses, doctors and police. Indeed, North Lanarkshire Council, which represents an area in my constituency of Cumbernauld and Kilsyth, has achieved £47 million of efficiency savings without reducing the number of its staff. In fact, the council has increased the number of its employees since 1999.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

Does the member agree that that is part of the problem? Glasgow City Council has achieved efficiency savings of £80 million over the past four years. In the next three years, we expect local authorities to save another £325 million. Has the slack not already been taken out of local authorities and is the worry not that jobs will be the next to go?

Photo of Cathie Craigie Cathie Craigie Labour

No, I do not worry about that at all. Whether we work in a council or not, we can all make efficiency savings. I say to Mr Rumbles that Aberdeenshire Council can make such savings. It is a question of making savings and using those resources at the coalface, where they will make a difference. We have been able to do that in North Lanarkshire.

Tommy Sheridan's speech was one for the soap box. He might have been inventing concerns that do not exist. Let us work together to ensure that the efficiency drive is not about making job cuts, but about achieving efficiencies. That will allow us to target money and resources where they will do the most good, which is in the delivery of services to the people who need them. I do not think that I can put that better than the Executive's document puts it:

"This is growth in public sector jobs in the right places; public sector jobs where they are needed, at the frontline, delivering demonstrable improvement to our public services."

We must lead by example on efficiency. We cannot expect savings to be made by our partners in local government and—as Margaret Jamieson highlighted—in other public agencies if we do not embrace efficient government ourselves. I am pleased that the document acknowledges that, details the savings that the Executive has already made and commits it to making future savings.

Like the Executive, some councils, such as Glasgow City Council and North Lanarkshire Council, have already taken on board the message of efficient government. Since 1999, North Lanarkshire Council has been working to make savings and to reinvest them in front-line services. That has proved to be hugely beneficial and has meant the targeting of millions of extra pounds on meeting the needs of the elderly and supporting young people with special educational needs. Extra money has also been provided for the day-to-day repair and maintenance of schools. Who can argue that we should not be targeting money on those areas?

The people of North Lanarkshire who benefit from such improvements in services would pour scorn on the SNP's suggestion that the efficiency proposals are only to make headlines. We must ensure that we support the local authorities that have made a start and do not move too far in a direction that would make it impossible to achieve the efficiencies that we seek.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

Yes, but you do not have very long.

Photo of Cathie Craigie Cathie Craigie Labour

What we have heard from the SNP and the Tories does not stand up. The council tax cannot be reduced without cuts in jobs and services being necessary. The SNP wants to square that circle, but that is impossible. When Ted Brocklebank compared expenditure in local government in England with expenditure in local government in Scotland, he was not comparing like with like; his per capita analysis was simplistic. Perhaps Tom McCabe and our colleagues who work in public services should paraphrase Sinatra and say, "We won't do it the way other people do it, we'll do it our way."

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative 4:38 pm, 2nd December 2004

We should start by congratulating the Executive on finally waking up to the fact that there are inefficiencies in the Scottish public sector; it is about time that it did so. Why has it taken it five years to get to this point?

As my colleague Ted Brocklebank said, there has been a huge expansion in spending and staffing in the public sector over the past five years—and I do not mean in front-line services. The Executive's administration bill has increased by £50 million and it has an extra 1,057 staff. There are another 556 civil servants in quangos, on which an additional £137 million of funding has been spent. It would not be so bad if outputs in the public sector had increased, but that is patently not the case. Since 1999, recorded crime and the number of offences are up by 7 per cent. In the health service, the percentage of out-patients who are seen within nine weeks is down by 10 per cent; the number of people who are on a waiting list is up by 25 per cent; the percentage of in-patients who are seen within three months is down by 13.5 per cent; and the total number of hospital discharges is down by 9.9 per cent. I could go on.

The number of workers in the public sector has increased by 8 per cent—by 50,000—whereas the number of workers in the private sector has increased by only 4 per cent, or half the public sector rate. That is a sorry tale and the Executive has nothing to be proud of. It is little wonder that Treasury officials in Whitehall last week talked about the Scottish Executive's toytown economics.

If the Executive now admits—as it seems to—that we spend £745 million too much annually, what does that say about its spending in the past five years? In each of those years, we have spent that amount too much. In effect, an admission has been made of failure and inefficiency to date. The Executive admits that it has wasted more than £3.5 billion of Scottish taxpayers' money in five years. That should be a resignation issue for the minister. The situation is unacceptable.

The Scottish Executive has missed the opportunity to use the money to reduce the public sector's size. The consensus is growing that the public sector is too large and is crowding out the private sector. Professor David Bell made that point to the Finance Committee on 2 November. Last night, a similar point was made at the Policy Institute debate that was led by Professor Sir Donald MacKay and Professor Donald MacRae, who are both eminent economists. The self-same point was made last week by Sir John Ward, who was appointed Scottish Enterprise's chairman by the current Scottish Executive.

Even the First Minister seems to accept the point. On 28 June, he said to the Fraser of Allander institute:

"The size of Scotland's public sector, compared to the size of the private sector, is too big."

We are all agreed. We have a consensus. Is it not marvellous? We can all sign up to it. However, when the opportunity arises to do something about the public sector's size, the Executive does absolutely nothing. Why is it missing the opportunity? Why does it not return some of the hard-earned money that it will save to our taxpayers? Why does it not use some of the money to cut business rates and council tax?

Gordon Brown has announced that £1 billion will be used to reduce council tax bills in England. What is happening in Scotland to reduce council tax bills? Nothing. I know that we have devolution and that the Scottish Executive keeps saying that we do things differently in Scotland, but would it not be marvellous for Scottish council tax payers if the minister said that a little of the money would be used to reduce council tax bills? However, the Executive will not do that. What a shame and a disappointment for our council tax payers.

I can go no further without commenting on the remarkable volte-face from the Scottish National Party, which now seems to favour—even if only half-heartedly—a council tax freeze. If the SNP wants lessons on cutting taxes, it has only to ask and we will be happy to assist.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

In his tour de force of the parties in the chamber, does Mr Fraser want to say something to his colleague Mr Monteith, who told us on 5 March 1999 that it was impossible to make efficiency savings in the Scottish Executive's budget and that

"Patently the SNP believe they can get blood out of a stone".

Why does Mr Fraser not give Mr Monteith a lesson on how to make efficiency savings in the way in which he spends public money?

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

Mr Monteith was commenting on the SNP's efficiency savings proposals, which is not the same matter.

Only we have the commitment to reduce taxes, which is why we are the effective Opposition. The SNP offers no philosophical alternative to the Executive. It offers a change of passport, but not of policy. For all that I disagree with him, at least Mr Sheridan proposes with some conviction an alternative to the Executive's suggestion, as do we, but we are a real Opposition party and we do not reduce our opposition to proposing the amendment of one word in the Executive's motion.

The Executive admits that it has failed to make savings in the past five years and that it has wasted more than £3.5 billion of Scottish taxpayers' money. When it now seems to be saving money, it will give no relief to our businesses through their rates or to council tax payers. It is time for the Executive to start giving back some of the excess money, to tighten its belt and to reduce the public sector's size, which will boost the private sector and the Executive's oft-stated yet never-delivered-on top priority of growing Scotland's economy.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party 4:45 pm, 2nd December 2004

I do not think that any of us will take lessons from a Tory party that wasted billions of pounds on introducing the poll tax, trying to collect it, and scrapping it. We are still trying to collect it today, about 12 years on from when it was introduced. We could go through many of the Tories' other failures, such as the fact that they picked Devonport over Rosyth and how much that is costing the taxpayer, or the millions that they spent on privatisation. Look at the millions that were spent on privatising British Energy plc just for us to have to bail it out with another billion pounds in the past year or so. I do not think that we will take any lessons from the Tories on efficiency.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

Would Alex Neil care to share with the chamber how much the privatised companies contribute in tax revenue to the Treasury compared with the subsidy that they used to receive from the Treasury when they were in public ownership?

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

We all know how much was spent and who made the millions in profit from the privatisations of Mr Major and Mrs Thatcher.

Let us move on to today. I reiterate something that Susan Deacon said. Those of us who believe in public services have a special duty to ensure that they are delivered as efficiently as possible. I hope that that aspiration is shared by members on all sides of the chamber.

The question that we are being asked to consider is whether the document "Building a Better Scotland: Efficient Government—Securing Efficiency, Effectiveness and Productivity" provides any grounds for hope that the Executive will do what it says it will. Although some elements of the document might be acceptable, as a whole it is full of contradictions and, in many places, is based not on evidence but on wishful thinking, as Tommy Sheridan said.

Let us look at some of the contradictions in the document. First, there is the issue of jobs. When Gordon Brown announced his Gershon-type economies, he said that we would be participating with other devolved Administrations in the 20,000 job losses, which he had discussed with the Scottish Executive. When Tavish Scott winds up for the Executive, will he tell us how many of those 20,000 losses will come from the Executive's efficiency cuts and savings?

Will he also tell us whether consideration has been given to the cost of job cuts? Redundancies do not mean that money is saved from day one. The cost of making people redundant has to be taken into account when considering the expected net savings. Does the document contain an assumption of the number of job cuts that there will be? If it does, what is that number, what will the cost of those job cuts be, and what will the effect be on the estimated savings?

On the fire service, will the minister confirm which one of two statements is right? Was Hugh Henry right on 18 November to say that no decisions have been taken by the Executive on reducing the number of control rooms from eight, or is the document right when it says—and has built into its assumptions—that the number of control rooms will decline from eight? If it is the assumption in the document, will the minister tell us what assumption has been made about the number of control rooms that will be closed down and how many will be left? Until the minister answers those precise questions, the document has no credibility.

Let us consider what the document says about procurement. There is an inherent contradiction in the idea of efficiency savings through procurement, which is not spelled out in the document. For example, if we go for cheaper procurement in road construction, that might mean that we contract people from outwith Scotland to undertake major road projects, which means that there will be fewer jobs in Scottish companies in Scotland. Has that been taken into account? In other words, what will be the economic impact of the savings on other Government revenues and expenditure?

The fifth area that requires clarification is what assumptions have been made about the relocation of Scottish Natural Heritage to Inverness. One sentence in the document refers to the savings on car journeys that will result from some of the Executive's decisions. However, in reality, what will happen? Many of the senior executives will not relocate to Inverness, but will stay in Edinburgh and set themselves up as consultants. They will go to Inverness to get contracts from SNH and the extra cost of that will be built into the price that they submit for their contracts. Then, they will charge consultancy rates to Scottish Natural Heritage. Have all those calculations been made? If so, what is the revised estimated cost of SNH's relocation to Inverness?

Then there is Scottish Enterprise. When one looks at Scottish Enterprise's budget in the draft budget document, one finds the heading "Management and Administration", the cost of which is estimated to be £75 million this year, which is 18 per cent of the total budget, rising to £92 million by 2007-08. Why does an economic development agency require to spend nearly 20 per cent of its budget on management and administration? How much is wasted on consultants, some of whom are getting £1,000 a day and are people I would not send for the messages? Is that good value for money? Has the Executive looked at the consultancy budget?

The minister has to answer those questions, otherwise his boss Mr McCabe will go down as the fiddler on the hoof.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat 4:52 pm, 2nd December 2004

The debate has shed some light and not a little heat. Indeed, there has been sufficient heat from the Opposition benches alone to power our green jobs strategy—that would be the embodiment of efficient government. Her Majesty could probably power a whole wing of her palace on Mr Brocklebank's singing earlier this afternoon—a song from an earlier hit parade. Just as "Top of the Pops" disappears, so too do the Tories. As for Mr Monteith, I feel that he should keep his speech for a licensing bill debate. We got binge rhetoric from him rather than anything more useful.

Efficient government is central to our programme of modernising and reforming the public sector to make it as efficient, effective and productive as possible. Efficient government is important for our economy, so that our public services are effective in delivering quick, responsive services to support a strong workforce and strong communities.

Efficient government will ensure that the valuable time of teachers, doctors and policemen is spent doing what they have been trained to do and not on bureaucracy. Efficient government is important in maintaining the reputation of our public services and the high regard in which the public hold them. That is why we will not get bogged down in anything other than what is right for Scotland to deliver the most efficient public services possible.

The Executive's plan does just that. It sets out how we can make our public sector more efficient by improving procurement practices, sharing support services, improving transactional processes, increasing the productive time of our staff and streamlining bureaucracy. It outlines the cash savings that each portfolio will deliver for reinvestment in front-line services—not the cuts that the Tories have proposed.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

Those are marvellous words from the minister, but why has it taken the Executive five years to get round to making such savings?

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

I will come to that in just a minute. First, I will answer the points that Susan Deacon and others raised about how we will implement the programme.

We will ensure that the efficient government programme is delivered throughout the public service. We will use delivery mechanisms such as technical notes, which will set out detailed project plans; the improvement service, which will work with local government, and measures will be fully integrated into best value; regular reporting to ministers and Parliament; and, above all, transparent monitoring by Audit Scotland.

I turn to Mr Fraser's question, which I was not going to ignore—I never ignore Mr Fraser's questions. I will give him an example that he should know about, because we mentioned it in a parliamentary debate in June: the e-procurement system. The Executive introduced the system, which is the model for public sector procurement—that has happened already; it is not an aspiration for the future. E-procurement is at the cutting edge of procurement and is valued by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to such an extent that it suggests that other countries should follow Scotland's example. Not only did we introduce that system, but we have abolished national health service trusts, implemented a business transformation project in Scottish Enterprise—saving £200 million—and carried out a major programme of reform and modernisation in the Crown Office, to name only another three examples.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

In what service was the £200 million saved from Scottish Enterprise reinvested?

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

As Mr Neil knows, because he is the convener of the Enterprise and Culture Committee, the £200 million has been reinvested in ensuring that Scottish Enterprise meets the objectives of "A Smart, Successful Scotland", which is the framework that we expect Scottish Enterprise—[ Interruption. ] Mr Neil laughs, but the organisation will be judged against those objectives not just by Government but by committees of the Parliament.

We will make a step change in the delivery of efficiency savings. There are many examples of such savings in the efficient government plan, but I will mention two examples that might interest members and I will respond to particular points that have been made. First, classroom assistants will be employed to reduce the unnecessary burden on professional teachers that is caused by administrative tasks. Secondly, we will deliver a bureaucracy audit that is aimed at reducing the burden of paperwork in the teaching profession so that education alone can be considered.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

I want to make progress.

We can transform the way in which our public services are administered and lock in savings to deliver a more sustainably efficient public sector. Public bodies will be required to look beyond the boundaries of their own organisations and to explore opportunities to work together to provide support and front-line services. That is why the efficient government plan contains measures for longer-term efficiencies.

A number of members mentioned the unions. We invited the unions to join the efficient government working group, but they declined. Obviously that is a matter for the unions, but Mr McCabe and other ministers will meet the Scottish Trades Union Congress on 13 December, so our door is, of course, not closed to the unions.

Mr Neil and others asked about fire service control rooms. The position was laid out clearly by Hugh Henry in the stage 1 debate on the Fire (Scotland) Bill. The issue is being consulted on as we pursue issues that were raised during the consultation on the bill, and the efficient government document reflects that. However, the position will be transparent, because not only the committee but Audit Scotland will observe the process, so there will definitely be an opportunity to pursue the matter.

It is important to stress that central Government is not immune from the initiative but will lead in making savings. Scottish Executive expenditure on administration is already much less than that of other UK Government departments as a percentage of overall expenditure. During the spending review period, spending on central Government administration will fall in real terms by 6 per cent.

Margaret Jamieson asked about public sector pensions. The Scottish Public Pensions Agency in Galashiels is considering the matter and Margaret Jamieson's point will be raised when the agency expands its role to deliver efficient and effective economies of scale.

Members raised issues about local government and portfolios. Local government receives a large chunk of Government expenditure and it is right that it should contribute its share of efficiency savings.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

In response to Mike Rumbles and other members, I point out that if a local authority achieves its efficiency target, they can redirect to front-line services—[ Interruption. ]

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

Order. Far too much private conversation is going on. The minister is winding up.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

Further progress over and above the target will be retained by local government. The modernising government and efficient government funds will help local government to make further efficiency savings.

We have heard a broad spread of ideas from some parties but, not for the first time, the Parliament and, certainly, members of the Executive parties have been unimpressed by the Conservatives. In England, the Tories have embarked on the James review—I understand that James is not Lord James Douglas-Hamilton but someone else—to help Government departments to prepare a list of spending cuts.

The latest phase was announced last month. I must admit that the announcement was met with a bit of a whimper in England, but that was better than the reaction in Scotland, where no one noticed it. There was not a whisper from the Scottish Tories about their equivalent proposals. I have had to resort to their new charter, of which we have all helpfully been given a copy—"with no small print" in relation to these matters—to find out the extent of their ambition, which is extremely difficult. Their plans for the 2,800 Scottish schools mean that we would be seeking extra bursars and administrators to ensure that children in our schools get their buses, that their lunches are cooked healthily and that contracts are designed, monitored and enforced so that children with special needs get the expert help that they need.

The Tories' plans to wind back the clock on health would mean a massive recruitment drive for senior hospital managers. Members should recall that there were 650 more senior NHS managers under the Conservatives than there are now—that is £35 million more in spending on bureaucracy under the Tories. They have no way of paying that bill. Last weekend, their London colleague Oliver Letwin said that they would cut £35 billion across the UK. It is no wonder that we are all looking for the small print on the Tory books.

I hope that I have been able to address the points raised by members, but I would be happy to write to members on the issues to which I have been unable to attend today.

I remind the chamber what the plan looks like. It sets out an ambitious agenda for making the Scottish public sector a leader in efficiency, innovation and productivity. It sets out a five-year plan to attack waste, bureaucracy and duplication in Scotland's public sector, freeing up £745 million of cash and releasing efficiencies for investment in front-line services. It commits us to finding more as we move towards our longer-term goal and sets out an agenda for long-term efficiencies to lock in a sustainably more efficient public sector in Scotland, delivering first-class services.

We have a plan for action. People will see that it makes sense. Ministers are determined to see that it makes a difference.