Two simple but effective starting points for public-sector savings

COST-SAVING is one of the most virtuous chores. It has three immediate and long-lasting benefits. It brings discipline to areas where money is being inefficiently or wastefully spent. It yields savings that can help towards fulfilling threatened commitments elsewhere. And it sets an example across government.

Today, we report on two areas where savings in public expenditure can be made – one right under the Scottish Parliament's nose and another in higher education, where concerns have recently been expressed over expenditure cutbacks. Both can be seen as examples of how, with the taking of responsibility and a show of leadership, the Scottish Government can make a difference. The immediate savings yielded may be small, but the power of the example set would make larger savings elsewhere easier to effect.

The example closest to hand for the government is the planned expenditure of 30,000 to send Presiding Officer Alex Fergusson, four MSPs and two officials by business class to Tartan Week in the United States. One or more ministers are also understood to be joining the party. Tartan Week is an acknowledged contact point and marketing opportunity we have previously supported, and continue to do so. It is a valuable chance for Scotland to show itself to advantage and to encourage interest in, and support for, Scottish tourism, produce and services. For obvious reasons, the budget for this visit is not as full as some would wish. This is not a point we need apologise for, because it will be well understood in an economy that has been in the eye of the global economic storm and whose unemployment rate is higher than ours.

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But is it really necessary to send MSPs as well as ministers? And why incur the cost of business-class travel when it would be more appropriate to pay for economy class and let those who wish to go business class cover the difference? Greater than the savings yielded would be the example set for overseas travel on other matters and, indeed, the conduct of government as a whole. The private sector has long had to make savings of this sort. Why should the government sector remain immune, going about its business like some imperial Raj?

Separately we report that university vice-chancellors enjoyed a 10.6 per cent uplift in their pay and benefits last year. We do not doubt the good work they do and the knowledge and commitment they bring to their work. But budgets in higher education are under ferocious pressure. Concern has been expressed over the ability of universities to maintain the range and quality of courses. This is just the sort of area where a pay freeze would be appropriate. It would go some way towards saving jobs and levels of service. Here, too, the private sector has endured a significantly lower rate of increase in pay than has been enjoyed in the public sector.

In both these areas, some common sense needs to be applied. But even where examples of savings are most obvious, they still require responsibility to be taken and leadership to be set. We would say these are the basic essentials of good government.