Prime Minister orders review of ‘Whitehall waste’ ahead of March Budget

Profile picture for user ddpreez By Derek du Preez January 8, 2020
Boris Johnson and Chancellor Sajid Javid told Ministers in a Cabinet meeting to root out any waste not aligned and to focus on government priorities.

An image of Houses of Parliament

It has been confirmed by Chancellor Sajid Javid that the new government’s first Budget will be held on Wednesday 11 March 2020. Ahead of this announcement, the Chancellor and Prime Minister Boris Johnson address Ministers in a Cabinet Meeting - tasking them with reviewing each of their department’s major projects, with the aim of rooting out waste across Whitehall.

According to reports, not specific projects were mentioned, but projects in the firing line will be those that aren’t deemed to represent value for money and/or aren’t aligned to priorities laid out in the pre-election Conservative manifesto. 

With the power of an 80-seat majority, the Prime Minister has asked Ministers to review and rate ‘legacy projects’, based on whether they fit with the new administration’s priorities. 

A Prime Minister’s Spokesperson said: 

Cabinet held a discussion on the economy and upcoming fiscal events. The Prime Minister said the Budget will focus on delivering the priorities set out in the manifesto.

This is a new government with a new mandate, including to level up across the country, invest in infrastructure and tackle climate change. 

The Prime Minister said there is a massive opportunity to unleash potential to every corner of the United Kingdom. 

The Chancellor and the Prime Minister said the Budget is also the time to take tough decisions in order to prepare the economy for the next decade. 

They said ministers need to root out any waste, particularly anything that is not aligned with the government's priorities, and demonstrate value for money of every pound of taxpayers' money that we spend.

On a trip to Manchester this week Chancellor Sajid Javid also set out his plans to use the government’s first Budget to “delivery change” and ‘unleash Britain’s potential, deliver world-class public services and level-up the whole country’. 

Javid said: 

People across the country have told us that they want change. We’ve listened and will now deliver.

With this Budget we will unleash Britain’s potential – uniting our great country, opening a new chapter for our economy and ushering in a decade of renewal.

Javid added that the Budget will prioritise the environment, build on recent announcements to boost spending on public services and tackle the cost of living. 

So, what can we expect? 

As noted above, it doesn’t seem that any projects in particular were mentioned during the Prime Minister’s address to Cabinet. However, there was a clear instruction for Minister’s to identify waste and focus on the Conservative’s manifesto priorities. 

With this in mind, there are two documents worth assessing, for clues as to where wastage may lie. 

Firstly, the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA) publish an annual report on how major projects across Whitehall are performing - the most recent one of which assessed projects worth over £440 billion. 

For example, it looked at 43 ‘transformation and service delivery’ projects worth over £84 billion and 27 ICT projects worth over £10 billion. 

The IPA rates each project from Green to Red, depending on its likelihood of being a success. It may be that Ministers begin looking at projects rated Amber/Red (successful delivery of the project is in doubt, with major risks or issues in a number of key areas) or Red (successful delivery of the project appears to be unachievable). 

Of the 133 major projects identified, 38 have been rated Amber/Red and another 4 rated Red. 

Some of the projects that fall into these categories include GOV.UK Verify, the Smart Metering Implementation Programme, 5G Testbeds and Trials, T-Level Programme, HS2, HMRC’s Customs Declaration Service, and the MoJ’s Transforming Compliance Enforcement Programme. 

The second major document Ministers will likely consider when assessing waste is the Conservative manifesto, which lays out the government’s priorities. 

We at diginomica/government outlined some of the key investment areas from a technology point of view, where the Tories are focused on the NHS, online crime, skills, R&D and fibre broadband. 

However, the document also addresses issues such as law enforcement, the UK’s immigration system, supporting working families, and investing in schools. 

Finally, it’s also worth considering a blog that was published just after New Year by the PM’s controversial senior advisor, Dominic Cummings. The focus of the blog was mostly centred on how he wants Whitehall to hire “weirdos and misfits with odd skills”, which inevitably raised a few eyebrows and spawned a number of think pieces. 

However, Cummings, whom we’ve identified previously as someone that is likely wanting to going to take an axe to the way that Whitehall operates, also said that this government won’t be sacrificing significant progress because of negative headlines. He said: 

Now there is a confluence of: a) Brexit requires many large changes in policy and in the structure of decision-making, b) some people in government are prepared to take risks to change things a lot, and c) a new government with a significant majority and little need to worry about short-term unpopularity while trying to make rapid progress with long-term problems.

That sort of thinking - perhaps unsurprisingly - suggests that we are heading for some significant changes in the mechanics of Whitehall. If you thought the Government Digital Service ruffled feathers, I’d brace yourselves.