Local councils will face an uphill struggle to make further efficiency savings in their back office spending according to a report today from the Audit Commission. In a review of efficiency savings of English councils’ back office activities it warns it will be difficult for them to contribute to a further 4.9 billion pounds of efficiency savings before 2010.
The report, ‘Back to Front’ focuses on efficiency savings in operations, such as finance, human resources, IT, procurement, legal services, facilities management and marketing and communications, which were highlighted in the 2004 Gershon Review and where councils have already saved 1.2 billion pounds. That sum represents more than a quarter of the total efficiency savings English authorities have made in the last three years. The Commission says further back office belt tightening will be tough.
It is warning councils that in spite of their successful efficiency drive they cannot be complacent and the report says making more efficiency savings behind the scenes will need a strategic and long term ‘transformational’ back to front approach, which will have to be delivered in a tighter economic climate. It says there is no ‘one size fits all’ formula for further efficiency savings but puts forward examples such as reviewing ICT, improving delivery processes and addressing ‘silo’ working.
The Audit Commission Chairman, Michael O’Higgins, said back office efficiency savings were not headline-grabbing but they were essential if councils were going to deliver quality services in a climate of cut-backs. “Councils must take a long hard look at what they are doing. 4.9 billion pounds is a lot of money, but it has to be saved, and services mustn’t suffer,” he said.
‘Back to Front’ sets out a checklist of questions to help councils identify where they are on the road towards sustainable back office efficiencies and it includes a toolkit offering practical assistance. A special summary version of the report is to be made available to elected members so they can challenge the performance of their own authorities.
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