UK government launches Spending Challenge: ‘Help us get more for less’

UK Prime Minister David Cameron kicked off a consultation exercise on ways to reduce government spending. Together with Nick Clegg he has written to public service workers asking them to share their ideas on where to make spending cuts.

A Spending Challenge website has been launched to solicit suggestions from Britain’s 6 million public sector workers. The challenge states that “Every single idea will be considered and the best ones taken forward by departments, the Treasury and the Cabinet Office”. Ideas will be analysed through a five step process:

  1. All ideas considered by cross-government team
  2. Serious ideas go to ‘champions’ team in Cabinet Office/Treasury
  3. Most promising ideas sent to departments and Treasury spending teams to be worked up
  4. Selected ideas reviewed by Ministers
  5. Spending Review announced October 20th

The rational for the challenge is laid out in Cameron’s letter:

The biggest challenge our country faces is dealing with our huge debts – and that means we have to reduce public spending.

Reducing public spending will require innovative and challenging ideas, best developed by those working on the frontline of public services:

We want you to help us find those savings, so we can cut public spending in a way that is fair and responsible. You work on the frontbench of public services. You know where things are working well, where the waste is, and where we can re-think things so that we get better services for less money.

[…] Don’t hold back. Be innovative, be radical, challenge the way things are done. Every serious idea will be considered: by government departments, by the Treasury, by our teams in Number 10 and the Cabinet Office – and passed to Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee to make sure we don’t miss anything.

While the website states the government “will look at every single idea that comes in”, however, there is no guarantee any of the suggestions will make it through to the final Spending Review report in October. This will set detailed spending plans, with budget cuts of up to 25% over four years for many government departments.

The Spending Challenge will be opened to the general public from 9 July. A summary of all submissions will be published later this year.

Partner with Wikileaks

The Spending Challenge site will also monitor social media as a means of fulfilling its mandate to find innovative ideas for saving money. This represents a recognition that some of the most “out of the box” suggestions may be outlined by on blogs and forums, rather than a newly created government website:

Although this process allows you to submit ideas anonymously, we respect the fact that some people will not want to contribute directly to a government website. As part of this exercise, we will monitor a range of blogs, social networks, forums and also

Save Award similarities

The UK Spending Challenge has many similarities to the Obama Administration’s SAVE (Securing Americans Value and Efficiency) Award. On launching last year’s competition President Obama called for “a process through which every government worker can submit their ideas for how their agency can save money and perform better.”

David Cameron’s recognition that public sector workers often have the best ideas was outlined by Jeffrey Zients, chief performance officer and deputy director for management in the Office of Management and Budget, when he said it was important to listen to the voices of those on the front lines:

In the government and in the private sector, it is often those in the front lines that have the best ideas and who know the most… We are looking for ideas that save money, improves the way the government operates by lowering costs, simplifying processes, streamlining processes, getting rid of unnecessary red tape and that has an impact on citizens’ lives. It could be a wide range of ideas.

The competition was seen as a success with over 38,000 ideas being submitted in the three weeks of the competition. Given this, the SAVE Award was turned into an annual event with President Obama issuing his own “spending challenge” to government workers:

I’ve issued a challenge to every man and woman who works for the federal government: If you see a way that government could do its job better, or do the same job for less money, I want to know about it

Saving through Open Source

The twitter reaction to the launch of the new site has been generally positive. The initiative is one of the latest examples of the coalition seeking to harnessing the collective ideas and experience of those working outside of central government.

As a nod to this the website itself is based on a WordPress theme developed by Simon Dickson for the recent Programme For Government site. Seeing the government use Open Source tools for the website, and reusing previous themes, demonstrates the spirit of the spending challenge.

The extension and reuse of such open source technology throughout government could help to bring down the cost of government websites. The axing of many government websites has already been proposed by Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude, but ideas from the public on reducing the costs of current sites e.g. through using free templates such as Govfresh’s Gov 2.0 theme, would be welcomed – especially when some current sites have a per visit cost of £11.78.

The winning idea from the US SAVE award is expected to save $2 million for 2011, and $14.5 million between 2010-2014. Any similar savings arising from the UK Spending Challenge should help establish the power of consultation with the public as a means of saving money and improving government efficiency.

Further reading

About Richard Fahey

Richard Fahey has a Masters Degree in Information Technology and Management, and is currently working as a Senior Business Intelligence Consultant at a large Consulting firm. He has a keen interest in Open Government and especially the use of Crowdsourcing platforms for citizen engagement. While a native of Ireland he has a great interest in US Government developments in the areas of Transparency, Collaboration and Participation. For more information follow me on Twitter @faheyr.

8 Responses

  1. Hello Richard. Very through article that should be the default source for anyone seeking information on government data transparency. Under your listing of “For More Check”, it might interest your readers to know that Rosslyn Analytics has made available for the general public the UK government’s expenditure data recently published from HM Treasury’s Combined Online Information System (COINS). People may view the government’s spending data from 2005-2006 to present by visiting

  2. JJoan Foster

    Cuts.. ok NHS get rid of the fat cats and bring Matron back
    Councils .. use council employees to empty bins etc stop using contractors and having to pay them as well as their employees. Imigration.. only allow those who already have jobs to enter.. no benefits for three years, all imigrants must have a sponsor.(other countries do this ie Canada) its time to say sorry we’re full. Crime I could not believe the news the other day… news that another of our lads had been killed and the next item a man convicted of plotting to bomb is allowed to stay here (claiming benefits no doubt) in case he got tortured at home.. ahh your first duty is to the citizens of this countries safety send the begger home he chose his way it should not be our problem, you should not keep him here and risk him plotting some more send him home. If they lose their passport (deliberately) so they cant be sent home give them an emergency one just get rid will save a fortune. Wake up and smell the coffee, humnan rights is all very well in Europe its not them got the threat staying with them. anyone found to be a threat.. send them home I don’t care if they are afraid we are all living in fear because of them. Its time you listend to the people of this country and less to the European government.

  3. Alan Bentley

    Fully agree with Jjoan. Waste of our young mens lives in the Afghan farce is an atrocity. Send convicted terrorists and murderers to the front line they can practice their trade there and hopefully get a taste of what they dish out. This would free up some prison spaces and save the taxpayer a lot of money keeping rubbish alive.

  4. Steve Drage

    I know this is something that you are looking into, bus as a 50 year old engineer working in the private sector, it realy bugs me to think of the size of the pensions that public sector workers recieve, We can only dream of the amounts that they get, but worse of all I am helping pay for it,
    Also the amount of money they get when being made redundant from work.
    The govermwnt has laws in place stating minimum payments to be made in the case of redundancy, of course the private sector use ths for there redundancy payments.
    Goverment workers get at least 5 times that ammount, and that is tax payers money (my money) that you are giving away. IT MAKES ME SICK.
    Also reading of the ammount of goverment workers earing more than twice than that of the PM also makes ME SICK.

  5. george duddin

    i think it is time our leaders took a long serious look at the topic of teenage pregnancy and think it would be a good idea to adopt USA type rules for this.
    If young females become prgnant and insist on keeping the child then it becomes a family responsibility therefor as in the USA it should be their’s totally.The young girl can go ahead and keep the child but the state would not support it,it becomes the responsibility of her parents and they have to finance the upkeep and cost of bringing up the child.This would make a lot of people think twice about unprotected sex and having child pregnancies.

    Switch off half the street lights after 1130pm at night.

    Do not pay children to go to school.

    Do not give children a bonus for good attendance.

    Issue children with a type of smart card on starting school life ,give them points for attendance,good exam results ,for aggod achievements.Accrue these points throughout their school life ,at the end the more points you have the less you pay to go to university,the less you have ,the more you pay.

    Criminals should serve very short sentances in their leisure time ,IE at nights and weekends,thereby allowing them to keep their jobs but forego their leisure time and not costing the state so much to support them and their families.

    All workers ,regardless of there status,IE,f/t or p/t should automatically be enrolled into a pension scheme and this follow them all the way through there working life.

    Reinstate the 40-45 year working rule to build up pension pot for state pension.These days young people are not enetering jobs market till around the 20 to 24 yr old range ,in the past people entered at the age of 16.

    People caught stealing or damaging other peoples property should have the cost’s deducted from their wages or benefits automatically.Do not be soft and say ‘how will they manage?’they will stop when they have to pay it back.

  6. Hopefully, the government will sell all its shares from the banks which we own. This should make up to £40billion plus and plug a hole in the deficit. As a result, a few public sector jobs would be saved and therefore less people would end up on the dole quene.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.