Towards a Leaner State

1st Public Sector Conference in Madrid

25/06/2013 Madrid

I Conferencia del Sector Público

Spain’s public administration is “not much bigger” than other European countries though “this doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have to slim down.” This was one of the conclusions expressed by the undersecretary of the presidency, Jaime Pérez Renovales, during the opening session of the 1st Public Sector Conference held on June 24 on IESE’s Madrid campus.

Under the title “Ways of Improving Public Management”, the meeting debated some of the key aspects of developing a new model of public management in Spain. IESE’s Center for Public Leadership and Government organized the event which was sponsored by Altadis with the collaboration of KPMG.

Pérez Renovales highlighted the work of civil servants in preparing the report for the Commission for the Reform of Public Administration that was presented to the government a few days earlier. The document includes 218 proposals for rationalizing public sector expenditure and reforming the administration.

Improving productivity

Pérez Renovales listed the four axes on which the reform of the administration is based: budgetary discipline and transparency; rationalization of the public sector; improving efficiency and a better relationship between the administration, public and business.

 He said the implementation of these reforms “was going to be more fluid than people imagine because it is going to be implemented with common sense.” He said that reform of local and autonomous government administration was essential, adding that the reforms were being carried out on the basis of “pragmatic principles.” “We have to maintain quality of service at a lower cost to the citizen,” he said.

 “This is an ambitious and complex project which will involve many changes but in which all of the administrations have to be involved and which all political parties need to support,” he concluded.

Juan Arrizabalaga, managing director of Altadis, agreed. “Reform is always necessary and never more so than in times of crisis,” he said. And he described the reform process undertaken by the government in recent months as ambitious.

The word of the day was “transparency,” in particular in regard to the new political and economic challenges of the single market. The undersecretary of economy and competitiveness, Miguel Temboury, said it was a matter of urgency that the Single Market Law, currently with the State Council, be passed.

A fragmented market

“The domestic market is very fragmented,” said one speaker, who blamed this partly on the bureaucracy of the autonomous communities. Temboury admitted that passing this law, one of the most ambitious of the parliament, is very difficult.

The emeritus president of the Constitutional Court, Álvaro Rodríguez Bereijo, said that “unity in diversity is the principle underpinning the state of autonomous governments but we haven’t developed territorial cooperation nor have we overcome the political differences that allowed us to arrive at the 1978 Constitution.”

He warned of the potential lawsuits and conflicts before the Constitutional Court that derived from the law and said: “What we need to create are the necessary channels of a constitutional culture to resolve these conflicts.”

Manuel Silva, a member of the Council of State, called on autonomous governments to resolve administrative conflicts. “We need to harmonize autonomous policy.” He called for a pact between all the big parties in order to advance along this road.

Regarding the Transparency Law, Silva said that “citizens will have more responsibility” in the public sphere, a point with which Temboury agreed. “I don’t believe that transparency is linked to popular revolt against the political system. The world is changing rapidly, as is the way in which democracies function and the relationship between citizens and their governments,” said Rodríguez Bereijo.

In the closing speech, the inland revenue and public administration minister, Cristóbal Montoro, said he was against carrying out major reforms of the state in order to avoid duplication of public administrations and reiterated his conviction that these changes can be achieved through political agreements.

He also said that the reform of public administration was “ambitious, overdue and much wanted” in order to create an administration for the 21st century. He said he was convinced that all of the administrations would approve the political project.

He said that the new laws would “eliminate duplicated services and get rid of red tape.” And he reviewed the indicators that suggest that Spain is facing a different economic reality: a positive current account balance, access to financial markets and inflation that will soon fall below 1 percent.