Headlines: April 19th, 2000

Politicians and most voters believe that if the burden of bureaucracy could be lifted from the public sector there would be major gains in efficiency. Bureaucracy is usually interpreted as form filling and given the all embracing title of ‘red tape’. Because of this firmly held conviction a Public Sector Team was set up in the Cabinet Office in November 1999 and charged with the task of reducing red tape so that public sector workers can spend more time on what they are good at: serving the public and delivering quality services.Following a six week study of police paperwork, which included talking to front line officers and a telephone survey of the 43 police forces in England and Wales, the team has delivered its first report. Their most important finding is that filling out Prisoner Escort Records every time a prisoner enter police custody is not worthwhile, because few prisoners move from one place to another. Getting rid of this record will save the equivalent of 90 police officers per year. They also found scope for simplifying procedures for processing case files and recommended scrapping six forms. Savings for theses measure have not been quantified.

Cabinet Office and Home Office Ministers have expressed satisfaction at the outcome of this first study. The reality is that having identified paperwork which is a burden to the police, the team’s rigorous challenges of the reasons for its existence were met by logical responses. Reducing the burden on the police of some 90 officers per year, plus some further savings is helpful, but it is very much at the margins of efficiency.

Red tape has survived the first thoroughgoing investigation, but what will the team find when they come to look at GPs, schools and local government?

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