Cutting budgets not frontline services. Is collaboration the panacea?
Cutting budgets while maintaining front line services may sound like a case of having your cake and eating it.
Lets take policing for example, a sector which I am familiar with.
43 independent forces with an annual budget in the region of 13billion. The Comprehensive Spending Review now demands a reduction in central government funding of 20%. Nick Herbert, the Policing Minister, believes that these savings can be achieved without impacting adversely on front line services. Collaboration is offered as a potential solution and there have been several examples of forces collaborating successfully, particularly to set up joint units to fight terrorism and serious crime. Collaborating to save money is, however, very different. It presents new challenges particularly in policing which has limited experience of outsourcing, sharing back office services or handling the inevitable job losses this will necessitate.
This is where a coordinated and disciplined approach to programme management can and should pay dividends. Firstly, programmes provide the ideal framework for delivering collaboration initiatives where the overriding goals may be clear but the means of achieving them are more fuzzy. Prioritising projects into tranches (chunks of work to achieve a step change in capability) really is the best means of achieving those quick wins or harvesting the low hanging fruit.
Programmes should enable appropriate mechanisms to be put in place to ensure effective governance. Collaboration requires trust and a long term commitment and programmes provide the best means of cementing these critical relationships.
Collaboration isnt easy, particularly in the public sector, which has a tendency to be more conservative in its decision making and less risk adverse. However, if the leaders of the police service and others in the public sector are to meet the challenge of cutting budgets but maintaining front line services surely a coordinated approach, using acknowledged best programme management practice, is preferable to a salami slicing where everyone and everything suffers. This is colossal a challenge, but then as Calvin Lloyd astutely pointed out, nobody rises to low expectations.
Does anyone else have any experience of effective programme management, particularly involving collaboration, being used to drive intelligent budget cuts?