Steven Vandeput, the Belgian Minister of Defence and the Civil Service, is seeking to capture an additional €10 million from the Belgian Government to support a large reorganisation in the public sector. With the money the minister wants to hire an army of management consultants, with the aim of turning the department into a lean organisation. Vandeput has so far received considerable criticism for the plans, but dismisses his pundits claiming that it is "an investment that will yield considerable returns."
The Belgian government is facing tough times. Even apart from the terrorist attacks in Brussels, and the criticism that officials (and security agencies in particular) face, the Belgian government finds itself struggling with a substantial budget deficit. Despite that fact, Steven Vandeput, Minister of Civil Affairs, recently requested an additional €10 million to what is already budgeted for a planned reorganisation within the government.
Similar to the UK government, Belgian policy makers have – with the help of consultants – formulated a blueprint for a ‘leaner government’. The aim of the plan (drafted by the political party NV-A) is to implement efficiency measures within the government, which should bolster the maturity of its operations in order to cope with the changing demands of citizens and enterprises. Ultimately, it must allow the public services to become 'leaner' and more 'agile', and to enable the government to benefit from, for example, more civic participation, self-service and digitisation. Additionally, the government sees itself playing an increasingly facilitating role between stakeholders, rather than having to bear full financial responsibility.
This shift in the government’s operational model will lead, according to the policy makers, to large cuts in costs. This year alone a structural saving of €100 million is projected. According to the business case, savings of up to €750 million per year may be realised by the end of the parliament. The major efficiency are forecasted to be achieved through digitisation and optimisation of resources, and, as a result, there will be ‘savings’ by, for example, reducing labour costs or by using real estate more efficiently. To realise the plans, money first needs to be invested, says Vandeput. That money would be needed, according to the minister, to renew “workflow management” and the “technological processes” within the government. “We have never made secret the fact that we needed a consulting budget. Some knowledge is simply not readily available in the government,” says Tony Langone, a spokesperson for Vandeput.
The request by Vandeput has, however, caused an uproar within Belgian politics. “We've been working together for weeks to fill a hole of billions, and now N-VA asks for additional funding,” comments a government source in the Belgian newspaper De Tijd. Vandeput places his request in a long-term context: “If you know that the reform will cost €750 million, then the addition can be relativised” he said recently. An agreement regarding the additional funding for the plan is yet to be reached, the height of the investment itself is still up for debate. A budget working group has been established to work out the issue.