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Last Updated: Monday, 29 November, 2004, 16:11 GMT
Ministers unveil efficiency drive
Payroll services are one area set for change, the executive says
The Scottish Executive has announced details of its 745m efficiency drive.

Each department, government agency, NHS board and council will have to find an average three per cent efficiency saving by 2008.

Finance Minister Tom McCabe wants cuts in administration costs. He said he hoped that compulsory redundancies could be avoided.

Thousands of staff are expected to move out of administration and into front line services as a result of the cuts.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer has already announced UK civil service job cuts to save money for public services.

Mr McCabe outlined his Efficient Government agenda on Monday.

The savings are expected to come through the use of new technology, centralising personnel and payroll services and initiatives to reduce absenteeism.

It is a five-year programme to attack waste, bureaucracy and duplication in Scotland's public sector
Tom McCabe
Finance Minister
The minister said: "Our devolved Scottish government is committed to excellent public services, designed and delivered to make sure that the interests of those who use them come first.

"Reform and modernisation are central to realising this ambition."

"Efficient Government is a central component of that reform agenda.

"It is a five-year programme to attack waste, bureaucracy and duplication in Scotland's public sector, a programme that aims to establish Scotland as a leader in efficiency, innovation and productivity in public services."

Annual savings

He refused to discuss whether this would involve thousands of job losses.

"I think it would be wrong of me to do that. I don't think it's helpful for people who have an interest in looking after the welfare of workers to unnecessarily speculate and cause unnecessary alarm," Mr McCabe went on.

"I have been quite specific - I have said we expect to see an increasing number of people working in the front line, but less people overall."

In June, ministers set a first target to deliver recurring annual savings of 500m by 2007-2008. Detailed work has allowed the executive to go even further with savings of 745m a year across the same period.

Our members provide important public services to the people of Scotland... this will not be delivered by job cuts
Eddie Reilly
Over the three years, the executive hopes to achieve more than 1.7bn in cash savings.

Mr McCabe said the annual savings of 745m would increase to a minimum of 1bn by 2009-2010.

However, planned cuts by Gordon Brown have already sparked protests among unions and civil service employees across the UK.

A total of 52 of Scotland's 168 job centres and social security offices closed after staff took part in a one-day strike against Mr Brown's proposals earlier this month.

Worried unions demanded an urgent meeting with Mr McCabe over the job implications.

'Genuine approach'

Eddie Reilly, Scottish secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union, said: "While we are prepared to co-operate at the moment on a genuine approach to efficiency, we need clear assurances from the minister that there will be no compulsory redundancies and no compulsory redeployment of civil servants.

"Our members provide important public services to the people of Scotland from the cradle to the grave and this will not be delivered by job cuts nor by holding back civil service pay settlements."

The union also wanted assurances that any civil service efficiency savings would be ploughed back into the civil service.

STUC secretary Bill Speirs said confusion reigned over the fate of civil service jobs.

"We need clear assurances from the executive that there will be no compulsory redundancies or compulsory redeployment of civil servants," he declared.

'Spin without substance'

The Tories' finance spokesman, Brian Monteith MSP, said: "Even if the government does succeed in cutting costs, there is no doubt that all it will do is squander any savings elsewhere.

"This Labour-Lib Dem executive doesn't know the meaning of being cost-efficient."

He questioned why efficiency savings should not lead to lower taxes like council tax and business rates, and cautioned against relying on new technology to achieve efficiency savings.

Our bottom line is that we would want to ensure that local government's share of the overall Scottish budget is maintained
Pat Watters

The Scottish National Party's finance spokesman, Alasdair Morgan MSP, said the Efficient Government document was "simply spin without substance".

He said the executive had counted the same figures three times to make its savings look greater in the publication.

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) reacted warily to the announcement.

Its president, Pat Watters, said: "As is often the case with such announcements, there is no real detail that we can get our teeth into at this stage.

"Our bottom line is that we would want to ensure that local government's share of the overall Scottish budget is maintained."

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