Sunday, July 04, 2010

How IDS Can Save Money at the DWP

This came in as a blog comment on the In Praise of IDS Blogpost. I thought it merited a wider audience. It's from someone who calls himself "J".

As someone who works in DWP he could saves billions from the admin budget alone if he really is interested in hearing from (some of) the frontline.

Quite simply, we could deliver the same core service with half the current staff if bad staff were sacked or effectively dealt with, if the ridiculous 9.5 days privilege leave was ceased, if levels of management were cut, a few legislative tweaks were introduced and local budgets were given to real managers.

Some examples: when the recession hit it was decided to knock through a partition wall between two rooms to make a larger room. A bit of paint, twenty chairs and it cost £250k. How on earth it cost so much I'll never understand. Each of our desks has two metal "desk tidies", and each one cost £200. WTF? We had a bolt installed on a finance door. A bog-standard bolt, probably wouldn't cost more than a tenner. Cost to the taxpayer? £150.

I am inspired to make suggestions to IDS, but wonder whether my attempts will be intercepted by his staff (all senior civil servants) who at the end of the day prefer empire-building to genuine reform.


I have offered to pass on J's suggestions directly to IDS. I suspect this comment could be mirrored across government departments. If there are civil servants reading this who have suggestions for savings in their departments, I'd happily pass them on to the ministers concerned.

24 comments:

UB41 said...

What is this 9.5 days privilege leave?

CIA said...

Tut, tut, Dale!
What makes you think "J" is a "he"?

There are words in the English language that are gender neutral like:

someone who calls themself

Gender Police

Mid-Wife Crisis said...

This is not only likely to be mirrored across government departments, but also across local councils where a quick study of those involved in companies tendering successfully for council contracts often reveals either the same company as held the earlier contract, only re-named; or those run by people who share surnames with Councillors, or companies formed by defunct departments within the Councils themselves.

There is no concept of seeking the best price for anything in my experience of the public sector. For example, orders such as stationery and office equipment are simply placed automatically with whoever the designated supplier is - often purely because billing/payment is simpler as a result.

FX Man said...

Ask Tony Blair to pay for his own security...? [he can afford it]

http://fxbites.blogspot.com/2010/07/protection-racket.html

hugh said...

If you want to suggest getting rid of a couple of quangos and help free up time in local goverment, might I suggest getting rid of 'Investors in people' and 'Customer Service Excellence' as the charter mark is now called. Both require paperwork inches thick, evidence gavering and tie up lots of staff time to no ones benifit.

Unsworth said...

This is the public sector/private sector interface. There are large numbers of private contractors doing very nicely thank you out of supplying goods/services to the public sector. This sort of thing is mirrored all the way down through public service - yet very few people question it. After all, it's all 'public money' isn't it? So nobody really gives a damn.

It's not just 'empire building'. There are really dubious relationships between senior Civil Service managers and other public servants - and their suppliers, at all levels. Over the years I've seen far too many substantial contracts being placed without due process at national and local levels. People have been paid off in all sorts of ways - social events, holidays at someone's villa, 'spare' tickets to the ballet or the big match, cars being 'bought' at remarkably low prices, house extensions being built 'at cost' and so on. The list of opportunities for such graft is fantastic and limited only by man's imagination.

In the past I have even gone as far as raising real evidence of such matters with County and Departmental Chief Accounting Officers. All have professed shock and amazement that such things have been going on. All have quietly allowed matters to slide and gently disappear.

Our systems are corrupt to the core. "J"s observations are the just tip of an enormous iceberg.

The publishing of costs on line is a very good start. But what's really needed is random forensic accounting - at every level of expenditure - and some prosecutions and/or sackings. It's people like "J" who will be the sacrificial lambs, of course. Those in the upper echelons will become members of the House of Lords.

Brishank said...

Whilst serving in the RAF as a Ground Equipment Fitter in the 80s, I was always astounded at the cost of consumables (nuts, bolts etc.) A single 10mm bolt could cost as much as a pound (the exact same bolt in even B&Q would cost 20p and there are far cheaper places than B&Q).

I know this because the 'chits' we got issued with when withdrawing anything from stores often had the unit cost printed on it.

It was explained to me that the cost of every induvidual item included all the costs to the RAF to get that bolt from supplier to the RAF stores. But I was never convinced of this simply because of the numbers of bolts the RAF as a whole would purchase... the maths just don't add up.

The only real conclusion you can arrive at is that the RAF procurment people never haggled to get the best price on any contract.

So I think Mid-Wife Crisis has it about right.

I could save the taxpayers billions I reckon. And funnily enough I'm looking for a job right now but it'll never happen.

tapestry said...

The Public Sector is an empire we don't need and can't afford. In the US many local authorities are finding they can no longer insure their liabilities, and are closing down all employment, and contracting out all services.

It might not be pretty but it won't bankrupt a country, as allowing these semi-crooks to milk the system unimpeded has done.

Michael said...

I wouldn't get worked up about 9.5 privilege days. If memory serves it's Xmas day, Good Friday etc. A couple of extras. In reality across civil service it probably reflects quieter days, and pays for itself.

Fully agree with the need for real, radical and irreversible change to the things that matter.

DeeDee99 said...

UB41. Privilege leave is a combination of Bank Holidays and a few additional days/half days which are restricted to the civil service.

Eg. Maundy Thursday half day;
Queen's birthday; additional day over Christmas.

I work in a Government Agency (I do a 'real job' and I have never voted Labour). We recently had to undergo Diversity Training; a full morning's training devoted to telling us that if we see or hear anyone behaving in an undiverse way, we should intervene.

We have a new computer systems, which we have to use, for filing records which is one-size fits all system (except it doesn't) and is not fit for purpose in the directorate I work in. It was introduced without proper training, to save money. Management work on the assumpution that we will 'pick it up eventually' and in the meantime it can take half an hour to 'file' one item of correspondence on the system.

HR processes have recently been computerised; the system constantly crashes and line managers are spending hours trying to get errors sorted. The errors reappear a few days later because the system doesn't 'recognise' some circumstances.

Hours are spent putting data into a correspondence logging system and keeping it up to date. The Performance Review system takes ages - not least because the HR system constantly crashes.

There are people who are lazy or who are constantly 'sick' and some who would be unemployable anywhere else, but the people I work with do a good job and work hard. We are all dead keen to perform well .... its the systems that don't let us!

JMB said...

The desk-tidy does not surprise me. Many years ago I came across a catalogue of office equipment at work and was amazed at some of the prices. I think coat hooks were around £50 and that was many years ago too. I can just imagine the same person who would pay that his own office but expect someone on the "factory floor" to knock a 6" nail in the wall for his coat.

Minor jobs like the bolt get expensive often because they often contract everything out to a facility company who will happily send a man in a van many miles just to do a job like that when in the "bad old days" the office odd job man would do it himself.

MillerMort said...

If my experience is anything to go by they could slash their postage expenditure by doing that "New Labor" thing.... joined up thinking.
I recently started a mandatory work activity (work experience to you and me), after which I received 6 letters from Job Center Plus in 2 days. Almost all of them told me the same thing too!

Kiera Hardie said...

UB41 said... What is this 9.5 days privilege leave?

It's what would be called Public Holidays elsewhere. I don't know about the DWP, and the idea of 9.5 days seems odd and probably a misunderstanding on the writer's part, but in the civil service in the Scottish Parliament there's eight public holidays, and two and a half privliege days, being the afternoon of Christmas Eve, Boxing day and the Friday preceding the Spring Bank Holiday.

I fully expect the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegrapgh to spread the word that there's infinite public holidays, though, now its appeared here.

You will know it's a lie and so will I, but that won't stop it.

Kiera Hardie said...

hugh said... If you want to suggest getting rid of a couple of quangos and help free up time in local goverment, might I suggest getting rid of 'Investors in people' and 'Customer Service Excellence' as the charter mark is now called. Both require paperwork inches thick, evidence gavering and tie up lots of staff time to no ones benifit.


Exactly like ISO 9000, Lean, Six Sigma, Total Quality Management and all the rest, then, being business process improvement tools imported from the private sector.

Kiera Hardie said...

Mid-Wife Crisis said... This is not only likely to be mirrored across government departments, but also across local councils where a quick study of those involved in companies tendering successfully for council contracts often reveals either the same company as held the earlier contract, only re-named; or those run by people who share surnames with Councillors, or companies formed by defunct departments within the Councils themselves. There is no concept of seeking the best price for anything in my experience of the public sector.

See, for example, http://www.scotland-excel.org.uk/ for a clue as to why this is nonsense. Decide for yourself whether it's ignorant of malicious nonsense.

Wallenstein said...

The private sector is just as bad - my previous employer had a similar catalogue for office equipment, in which a basic desklamp would cost £25-30 compared with £5-7 in Argos.

I wonder how many of the critical commentators have worked for a very large private sector organisation - I don't think many of these examples are simply because the organisation is a public sector one, but rather that very large organisations tend towards inefficiency.

The multi-billion dollar firms I've worked for have just as many daft purchasing decisions as civil service depts, they just pass the cost on to customers rather than taxpayers.

Mulligan said...

I used to work for DWP and whilst the poster Iain quotes has a point re money wasted (Our local jobcentre has an LCD TV installed to run a powerpoint presentation, and nobody has looked at in in 4 months since it was installed) However the priviledge days are 1.5 days beyond bank holidays and if anyone believes with rising "client" base jobcentres could manage with half of current front line staff they are living in cloud cuckoo land, or more likely have an axe to grind. (although the layers of management and box tickers could probably be culled whilst adding to the efficiency of service offered by frontline staff, as they don't have to implement their more stupid "initiatives" and meet artificial targets).

Pure Innovation said...

There is one practice that is rife throughout all the contact I've ever had or heard about when it comes to government contracts - getting suppliers to price to the departments budget. The main example I have was with a website that we were pitching to a council in London.

For a couple of reasons, it being a public sector contract and because it was a pitch for which we felt we had a low chance of success due to a lack of previous public sector experience, we decided to go in with a deliberately high priced contract. If we won it outright then that was a bonus, but we also had a lot of room to negotiate should it come down to price.

You can imagine our surprise when we were informed that we had one the contract but with one condition - that we double our price! The department responsible had been given a set budget and should they fail to spend it all then they would lose it. The manager in charge therefore decided to make sure they would always overspend slightly to ensure they always had a larger budget the next year. This ended up being a £160k website that we would have happily built for £50k.

What is all the more shocking is that over the last couple of years I have spoken to many people within the industry with similar experiences. Waste seems to be endemic due to rules that make it preferable to finding the best value for money for the tax payer.

Assuming that this is true across the public sector, and evidence would indicate this to be the case, then should you find a way to change these rules and the accompanying culture and you would probably do all that is required to wipe out the current deficit.

Gallimaufry said...

Iain DWP offices are owned and managed by Telereal Trillium under a twenty year contract. Its desktop estate used to be (it may still be) similarly provided by EDS. Those vast sums for maintenance and running costs are going to the private sector so that's alright.
DWP had the highest proportion of staff in the Civil Service who qualified for tax credits.

Gallimaufry said...

Brishank wrote "The only real conclusion you can arrive at is that the RAF procurment people never haggled to get the best price on any contract."
And when procurement get the goods cheaper elsewhere this is the reaction.

jbw said...

Pure Innovation said...

"You can imagine our surprise when we were informed that we had one the contract but with one condition - that we double our price! The department responsible had been given a set budget and should they fail to spend it all then they would lose it. "

Ahh - yes, the good old budget system. A well known problem. Even better is if you can persuade your own department team to spend less in some areas, (knowing full well it will cost the firm more in the long run), but which forces other departments to spend their budget correcting the mistakes later.

Good game - good game!

Rush-is-Right said...

There is also the little matter of uncertified sick leave which civil service employees are encouraged to take as holiday entitlement.

I can certainly confirm J's observations about over-staffing at the DWP. My son took a one-year job in their Sheffield office in the early 1990s and was amazed at how little work there was to do. Returning after 2 weeks holiday he was able to clear the entire back-log of his daily work by Monday lunchtime. He was surrounded by loafers, doing stuff like playing darts most of the day. And yet after a year he was offered a permanent contract.

Get cutting!

bewick said...

Jwb mentions uncertified sick leave.
Thought that practice might have changed. Did some consultancy 15 years ago for the DHSS. The staff there regularly told me that they had 2 weeks per year of uncertified sick leave "entitlement" and they all made sure they took it. As an ex LOcal Government person who had, inter alia, HR responsibilities I was appalled. If any of my staff had taken 3 periods of uncertified sick leave in a year they would be spoken to, maybe disciplined. Depended on circumstances.

Can confirm that many, not all, of the civil servants were bone idle and unprofessional.
Some had been "drafted in" to the team I was advising. One at least of those had been "drafted" serially and the DHSS were paying two mortgages for her - one in London, one in Blackpool, and also paying her rent in the local area. Reason being that they hadn't decided whether she would be returning permanently to either London or Blackpool or staying put.
Have seen similar profligacy in the private sector as well.

J said...

Hi thought would address the 9.5 privilege days that Michael raised.

They are the bank holidays, but bare in mind that the legal minimum is now 5.6 weeks for workers (INCLUDING bank holidays).

Civil servants with 10 years service get 6 weeks PLUS 9.5 days, so a total leave entitlement of almost 8 weeks. I do not include flexi leave in this because this pays for itself. Privilege leave does not pay for itself - a day off for the Queens Birthday? Half a day off for Maundy Thursday??

DeeDee99 is absolutely right about the IT systems. They are totally not fit for purpose, duplicate activities and generate more work
rather than save work.

I don't live in cloud cuckoo land. I live in civil service land. I do believe we could run the department with half the staff. My office once had 80 staff and one manager and one deputy manager, now it has 65 staff, three managers and three deputy managers. If I want to pay £10 to a customer to buy a shirt for a job interview I have to get four additional staff to tick all the boxes. We have some advisers who work 3 days a week who see as many customers as someone who works 5 days a week. We split one team into two teams and therefore had to recruitment an additional reception team when we should have stayed at one team.

I know full well there are decent hardworking staff but I also know there are rotten eggs. I have been in the department for almost twenty years and have seen only two people dismissed. That does not mean everything is sweet and rosy and every single member of staff is productive, efficient and a team player. It simply means the civil service does not get rid of its bad staff.