Guest blog by Jim Brooks

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There’s no magic secret to surviving austerity. The public sector is shrinking by around 30% in a very short period of time. What took over 100 years to develop is being decimated on an annual basis in order to arrest the rate of increase in the national debt.

But all of these efforts are undone by two things: the cost of servicing our £1.6 trillion debt and the increased cost of retirement pensions.

You have to be positive and realise the awesome consequences of not cutting public spending elsewhere.

Even the ‘protected’ Departments of Health, Defence and Education face severe financial restrictions. Gone are the days of squeezing the cuts target out of a large budget by spreading the jam more thinly. We are firmly in the territory of stopping doing things and drastically reengineering those services we are lucky enough to retain.

The speed and scope of the retrenchment makes it difficult for any service to escape the closest scrutiny. It may be possible to argue that your services are more valuable or more essential than others, but the litany is of tough justice: equal misery for all. The scope for special pleading is very small.

However, it may be tempting to think that the battle can be won or lost in one year – do not fall into that trap. Experience from those departments which have been seeking savings over the last parliament suggests that a ruthless approach works better than the traditional attempts to creep under the bar on a year by year basis. A more sustainable approach is to determine what the key 60 or 70% of the resource base you currently have will buy. Then try to make sure that the cuts are centred outside that irremediable core. But don’t forget to scrutinise the core areas to within an inch of their lives. Nothing is sacrosanct. Otherwise you will end up in a place you don’t want to be.

Jim Brooks has over 30 years’ experience in public sector management. He was City Treasurer of Manchester and Chief Executive at Borough of Poole and Kingston‐upon‐Hull City Council. He coaches and mentors Chief Executives and chief officers and is an Independent Board Member for the Department of Environment in Northern Ireland.

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