UK public sector faces productivity review; US government told to quicken pace of federal property sales: policy and delivery news in brief

By on 15/06/2023 | Updated on 15/06/2023
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt speaking with prime minister Rishi Sunak in October 2022. Photo: No 10 Downing Street Flickr
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt speaking with prime minister Rishi Sunak in October 2022. Photo by Simon Walker / No 10 Downing Street, via Flickr

Global Government Forum’s digest of the news you need to know but might have missed.

UK chancellor launches public sector productivity task force with AI focus

The UK finance minister has launched a fresh efficiency drive in the UK public sector, with a particular focus on how artificial intelligence can be used in services.

In a speech on 12 June, Jeremy Hunt said efforts to improve public sector productivity were vital because public spending in the UK is forecast to grow at 2%, above the economy’s trend growth rate of 1.6%

“If we increase our productivity growth in the public sector by 0.5% a year, we stabilise the proportion of GDP consumed by the state by closing the gap between anticipated growth and anticipated spending up to 2050,” he said. “And if we replicate that productivity growth in the private sector we start to increase living standards as well.”

As result, chief secretary to the Treasury John Glen will lead a review to assess how to “increase public sector productivity growth, both in the short and long term”, with a report to follow in the autumn.

“I want this to be the most ambitious public sector productivity review ever undertaken by a government, with the Treasury acting as an enabler of reform. So we will spend time getting this right,” he said.

He cited artificial intelligence as an example of innovation and highlighted the National Health Service AI Lab, which is bringing together government, health and care providers, and academics and technology companies, as an example of how to consider its deployment in the public sector.

Upcoming webinar: AI for all? Addressing the biases in automation

US government told to quicken pace of federal property sales

US senators have urged the federal government to make progress on the sale of unused federal buildings after an Obama-era disposals initiative ground to a halt.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee heard that the board created to help recommend what government properties could be sold had not been provided with sufficient data by the Biden administration to undertake its work, according to Government Executive.

The Federal Assets Sale Transfer Act, which was signed by president Obama in 2016, created a Public Buildings Reform Board that is tasked with reducing the size of the federal estate by selling buildings that are no longer required.

However, the committee heard that following a first round of sales that the board recommended to the General Services Administration (GSA) – 10 properties were sold for nearly US$200m – the work of the board has stalled as it does not have enough members to meet its legislated quorum.

In addition, board member Nick Rahall told the committee that the administration has not provided sufficient data to support its efforts.

“We need data to conduct our recommendations,” Rahall said, according to Gov Exec. “Data that we just don’t have right now.”

The committee’s most senior member, senator Rand Paul, called on the government to refocus on disposals given the development of telework and flexible working policies following the coronavirus pandemic.

“The failure of the General Services Administration to meet these goals shows the administrative resistance to change and efficiency,” Paul said.

Nina Albert, the commissioner of GSA’s Public Buildings Service, told the committee that cost was a factor in the delay to sales. Agencies require upfront funding to pay for the costs of unloading a property, she said, and delays in the initial round of sell-offs meant the proceeds were not available for scheduled subsequent sales, after which the board lost its quorum.

The next round of recommendations is due by the end of 2024, with a goal of US$4.75bn in proceeds. 

Read more: US Congress agrees debt deal, freezing agency spend but reducing shutdown threat

Australian government unveils new payments strategy

Australia’s federal government has published a strategic plan for the nation’s payments system including the phasing out of cheques within seven years.

The ‘Strategic Plan for Australia’s Payments System’ has five overarching priorities: promoting a “safe and resilient” system; updating the payments regulatory framework; modernising payments infrastructure; boosting competition, productivity and innovation; and promoting Australia “as a leader in the global payments landscape”.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers and assistant treasurer and minister for financial services Stephen Jones jointly wrote in the 40-page strategy’s foreword that it will “help co-ordinate action between the public and private sectors and provide certainty for industry investment and support for new entrants to navigate the regulatory landscape”.

Read in full: Australian government unveils new payments strategy

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About Richard Johnstone

Richard Johnstone is the executive editor of Global Government Forum, where he helps to produce editorial analysis and insight for the title’s audience of public servants around the world. Before joining GGF, he spent nearly five years at UK-based title Civil Service World, latterly as acting editor, and has worked in public policy journalism throughout his career.

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