Saving money as the priority (and one reflection on GOV.UK)

The same answer has cropped up in response to 3 different questions within the last week.

The questions were, respectively:

  1. What do you believe the purpose to be of your role as a commissioner?
  2. What is the purpose of GOV.UK?
  3. What is the purpose of integrating health and social care, for example of the scale mooted during the launch of Labour’s commission into health and social care?

The answer in each of these 3 cases was, basically, to save money.

A generous reading of each of these cases is that saving money is perhaps the most notable thing people will be interested in, and so is the component of the work the respondent to each question chose to highlight first.

Taken at face value, though, the common answer to the 3 questions is one I wouldn’t give. At least, I wouldn’t give it as the primary reason for doing things. In fact, it would get the Family Fortunes “our survey says…”


Saving money in public service reform is important, and I’m not advocating for profligate spending of public money. But I think we run 4 very great and related risks if we put this motivation ahead of good quality service provision:

  • Undermining the fabric of the state by arguing we should spend the least amount of money possible on providing services
  • Aiming to deliver public services for as cheaply as possible, irrespective of quality
  • Missing or obscuring the fact that better quality services can often achieve better value / cost effectiveness as a by-product of being better quality services
  • Forgetting what outcomes we want public services to support by determining what we’re willing to spend on them a priori.

Perhaps I’m being sensitive here, and we’re talking about shades of emphasis between better quality services, saving money and other measures of public service reform. But it’s something that’s been gnawing at me for the last week, so here it is in blogpost form.

(As an almost unrelated aside, and talking of things that have been gnawing away, I’ve hesitated including the GOV.UK example in this post.

I made a series of posts in the relatively private space of Facebook which said I’ve felt uncomfortable making public comments about GOV.UK. This is because of a combination of not wanting to be an arse (too late?), recognising they’re doing some great work and not wanting to be too publically critical of it as a result, but reflecting that I do have some worries about the whole enterprise (shared, it would seem, by other government-y types who aren’t directly involved with GOV.UK but have a professional and personal interest in its work).

The response to my Facebook posts, from a group of people that I know to include those very interested or directly involved in the GOV.UK enterprise, was virtually zilch. Similarly, the only tweet I ventured on the subject (via @ replies to specific people) garnered no responses at all.

I suspect this can be attributed to typical (defensive?) human behaviours amongst those leading or part of significant change processes, but nevertheless find it surprising that constructive criticism from a friendly, informed source can fall on such stony ground.

Partly to allay my paranoia that I am actually being an arse and so should rightfully be worried by appearing to be one, any engagement – ironically enough – from GOV.UK folks on the substantive point I’m making about the lack of engagement would be appreciated.)