Council services could be cut without savings, says Carwyn Jones
Public services in Wales such as the NHS, police and councils must become more efficient to avoid cuts, says First Minister Carwyn Jones.
He outlined plans for a new programme which aims to ensure taxpayers get value for money at Wales' first Public Services Summit.
He warned senior public sector managers there would be growing pressure on budgets in the coming years.
The meeting is ahead of Labour's party conference on Saturday.
Mr Jones told the summit at Cardiff City Hall that he believed money made from efficiency savings could then be used to protect vital front-line services.
"These are exceptional times which will require exceptional leadership from us all to ensure that we deliver for our communities through the testing times ahead," he said.
"We are all facing difficult decisions and choices. Past experience has shown too clearly what happens when financial pressures are translated into all-round cuts in services and front-line jobs - with those in greatest need often taking the biggest hit.
"That is unacceptable. As a nation, we have to do everything we can to narrow the equality gap, not widen it."
He said future public service summits would be held every four to six months, and would build on the "Team Wales approach" adopted by the economic summits during the recession.
"I want today to be about establishing a shared commitment to building the better way and for us to pool our effort and creativity. Building this response is everyone's responsibility," he said.
Jane Hutt, Minister for Business and Budget, said Wales was facing an "increasingly tight series of budgets and the challenge was to become both more efficient and more innovative".
"There are no simple answers, but we have to do better," she said.
"We have to accelerate change. We are beginning to see just what we can achieve if we start from the needs of the citizen.
"Efficient services across the public sector are nearly always better services."