UK Politics

Osborne meets workers in spending cuts consultation

Chancellor George Osborne has met public sector employees who have suggested ideas for saving money as part of a consultation on future cuts.

He said there had been 65,000 responses to a website launched recently asking for suggestions on cutting waste.

Mr Osborne said the process was "sensible" and many of the ideas would be considered by civil servants.

But unions have said the exercise is an "outrage" as workers are being asked to contribute to their own sacking.

In the Budget Mr Osborne announced real terms cuts across all government departments of 25% over four years - except health and foreign aid which are ring-fenced.

It has since emerged that some departments have been asked to consider cuts of up to 40% in order to reduce the deficit.

'Big problem'

As part of the spending review process, ministers are asking public sector workers to suggest services they believe are non-essential, how services can be better targeted or provided more effectively by private and voluntary groups.

Ideas published on the Treasury website include booking travel and accommodation directly rather than through third party agents, centralising stationery orders across government, getting local authorities to share functions, making hospital clearance checks applicable across the NHS and turning the lights off in buildings during the evenings and weekends.

The Treasury said it would shortlist a number of ideas "for further work or implementation".

'Involving people'

Mr Osborne said the idea was a "very sensible thing to do" given the challenges the country was facing.

"The country knows there is a big debt problem," he told the BBC. "We have got to deal with that to make sure the economy is not in crisis.

"But the country also knows that, as we go about it, we need to involve the public sector in those decisions.

"Having over 65,000 people take part and now opening that process up to the public is all about saying to the country 'your government needs you to help us deal with those debts we have inherited'."

Mr Osborne has also asked the public for their suggestions on how to save money, with the launch of a new spending challenge website.

He said: "We need to tackle this huge national debt and make our economy stronger, and it's your ideas that will help us do that by improving public services and saving money."

But the consultation with public sector staff was condemned by GMB union chief Paul Kenny, who said it was an "outrage" to ask public workers to "co-operate in sacking thousands of them".

'Ludicrous'

And Unite branded the ideas "boy scout" solutions and said it would launch its own campaign for ideas to protect jobs and local services.

The union's assistant general secretary for public services, Gail Cartmail, said: "It is ludicrous to ask people for their suggestions to make savings, when the government has already decided on the biggest round of public sector cuts since the 1930s."

Labour say proposed 25% average cuts in departmental budgets, which will be determined in an spending review in October, are reckless and will hurt vital services.

The party says the cuts are based on an ideological desire to reduce the scope of the state, rather than sound economic reasons.

The government earlier announced a tie-up with the Facebook website in an effort to use new technology to "crowd source" and get people involved in making policy.

The website will have a page for people to debate spending priorities and will allow people to submit and vote for ideas on where cuts could be made.

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