Government's £20bn property portfolio under scrutiny

Prime Minister backs retail tycoon Philip Green to save government cash, as Maude scrutinises all IT contracts over £1m
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David Cameron has backed plans drawn up by multimillionaire retailer Sir Philip Green designed to save billions through improved Whitehall efficiency.

"Some of the property examples will turn your head," he told his first full Downing Street press conference since the unveiling of the coalition agreement in May.

Cameron has reiterated his message since the Conservative conference that all sides must bear the brunt of the coming cuts, symbolised by the withdrawal of child benefit from higher rate taxpayers last week. Weekend polls showed the Conservatives regaining a clear overall lead and continued support for the clampdown on child benefit.

Green's plans include better use of government property, which costs it £20bn annually, and tighter financial controls. The Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude was quoted in the Sunday Times as saying he would introduce "Stalinist" financial controls, including a personal sign-off by him of any IT contract worth more than £1m. Much of the saving will come from more centralised procurement.

Green, chairman of BHS and the Arcadia Group, was asked to review the government's operational efficiency programme and whether its leases and contracts since 2007 offered value for money. He is understood by who that have seen the report to have focused on ways to rationalise government property.

The Green report will be sent to the Cabinet Office and Danny Alexander, the Treasury chief secretary, to be implemented before October 20.

Cabinet ministers yesterday scotched any suggestion the coalition will revise its deficit reduction plan if the threat of a slowdown in the economy intensifies. Philip Hammond, the transport secretary, made it clear that Whitehall departments would have to work within "firm and clear" four-year budgets.

He said any further stimulus to the economy would have to come from the Bank of England – probably in the form of quantitative easing or printing money – rather than a loosening of fiscal policy.

The chancellor, George Osborne, has yet to reach deals with three of Whitehall's biggest departments and expects them to be completed only days before the review.

The latest efficiency drive is designed to show that ministers are doing everything possible to cut overheads rather than damage frontline services. The government is committed to making £6.2bn efficiency savings this year.

"We're into the endgame," a Treasury source said. "We're aiming to have settled all but the bigs by the middle of the week, so we can focus on them and close the deal. "The cabinet's public expenditure committee will meet tomorrow to agree provisional plans for capital spending, and will meet at least once more during the week.

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