What if Britain were run by Sir Philip Green?

The retailer says he knows how to slash Government waste. But why stop there? Andy McSmith imagines a state run on his ideas

So Sir Philip Green, the billionaire boss of Bhs, Topshop and other familiar high street names, has supplied the Government with advice on how to make millions of pounds of the fabled "efficiencysavings".

His basic message is simple. As the biggest customer in the market, with an AAA credit rating, the Government has vast financial clout – but it doesn't use it as ruthlessly as Sir Philip would if he was running it as a business.

He recommends the creation of a new super-agency to do all the Government's wheeler-dealing. Every time a public information leaflet is ready to go to press, or a civil servant needs a hotel room booked, a central team of hard-nosed specialists would drive a bargain with the printer orhotelier.

But why stop there? Sir Philip has risen from humble origins to become one of the richest menin the country by taking overinefficiently run businessesand turning them round. Perhaps there are other lessons theCoalition could learn from this man's career.

One of the greatest constraints on government is elected politicians' constant need to defer to public opinion, as last week's reaction to the announced cuts in child benefit demonstrated. Sir Philip has had to deal with similar problems in his business career. Eighteen years ago, when he was plain Mr Green, he was in charge of a publicly quoted company called Amber Day. He was accused of running it as a one-man operation in a way that kept shareholders out of the picture. Some major shareholders pulled out, causing the value of the company to drop, and when profits were less than forecast, the board ousted (and paid off) Mr Green.

Since that experience, Sir Philip has avoided being sucked into this shareholder democracy. He has stuck with private companies, where he and his accountants can do what they believe is best without worrying how shareholders might react. The lesson for government is too obvious to need spelling out:get the voters off your back. Instead of the fixed-term parliaments and fewer MPs that the Coalition is introducing, it would be far more efficient and cost-effective to have no parliament and no MPs at all.

That would have the added benefit of making redundant all the ministers, press officers, PR consultants and the rest, who are hired to explain government policy to outsiders. Insofar as it is necessary to publicise what the Government is doing, let celebrities do it. Kate Moss, with whom Sir Philip has worked so long and so well, is almost as old as George Osborne, and much more photogenic. She could be the public face of the Government.

Yet it is a sad fact that no matter how cheap and efficientgovernment becomes, there willbe people who continue to carpand complain. Sir Philip's report highlights how the Government spends billions on telephones. Those phones could be put to use. People who criticise could be rung up out of the blue and shouted at in vernacular language that includes generous use of a word beginning with "f".

And when dealing with major opponents, such as Ed Miliband, David Cameron could study the example of how Sir Philip conducted his personal relationship with Sir Stuart Rose, the retailer who thwarted Sir Philip's attempt to take over Marks & Spencer. As Sir Stuart recalled: "It did get quite physical one morning on the pavement outside Baker Street. He didn't actually smack me but there was some vigorous grasping of the lapels."

Outsourcing has proved to be an immense cost-saver in Sir Philip's business empire, and should be applied more thoroughly across government departments. A question that the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, needs to address is whether state schools actually need a teacher in the classroom. Sir Philip emphasises how conference calling can reduce civil service costs, but omits to point out how much cheaper it would be if all lessons in state comprehensives were conducted by conference call by teachers based in low-wage economies in South-east Asia.

Do we need properly paid and highly trained British troops to fight our wars for us? Why can't the Ministry of Defence follow the lead taken recently by Suffolk County Council, and shed all its direct workforce apart from a handful of head office officials who hire troops and equipment when needed from the cheapest available sources? Hiring foreign mercenaries is a practice as old as history.

Obesity is a drain on the public purse. It costs more to employ a fat civil servant than a thin one, because the fat ones need sturdier chairs, use more electricity when travelling in lifts, and so on. It is also well known that benefit claimants spend a greater proportion of their income on food than do most people, from which it follows that if they ate less, they could get by on lower benefits.

This is surely an argument for a publicity campaign, fronted by Fearne Cotton, requiring everyone in public service, especially those working in benefit offices, to wear those popular "Love My Bones" T-shirts from Topshop. That would get across the message that a bit more anorexia could be a saving for the taxpayer. As Kate Moss once said: "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels."

But actually these are details. Let's think really big. Let's ask the most fundamental question of all: why should the Government spend any money on anything?

The reason that the Government has to meet the cost of defence, health, education etc in the UK is that it is itself UK-based and therefore has a responsibility for the welfare of those who live here. But were it to transfer itself for legal purposes to a foreign jurisdiction, some little tax haven somewhere, surely it could continue to receive tax revenue whilst maintaining that, as a foreign entity, it is not responsible for contributing to the cost of UK public services. That £149bn of government debt would disappear in no time.

If David Cameron needs advice on how this can be done, Sir Philip's wife, Cristina, can help. She is in Monaco, looking after their untaxed billions.

There is no such thing as a painless efficiency saving

Philip Green's prescription for saving money

Problem: 71,000 civil servants have permission to spend £1,000 a month on everything from computers to stationery and travel without authorisation. One department paid £73 for a box of paper while another paid just £4.

Solution: All transactions must have prior authorisation and most purchasing should be done centrally through one contract at the cheapest price,imposing the Government's terms on suppliers.

Problem: Public sector property (excluding the Ministry of Defence and the NHS) occupies 2 billion square feet and costs the taxpayer £12.4bn a year. One government agency took out a 15-year lease on a building that was 30 per cent larger than it needed despite alternative premises being available nearby for £15m less.

Solution: Government property should be managed centrally. Property experts should be brought in to reduce space occupied and rent paid.

Problem: Budgets are only reviewed at the highest level and rarely against performance targets. Departments are not incentivised to spend less than the cash budgeted.

Solution: A team of three or four people, with financial and commercial expertise, should review departmental spending with an emphasis on efficiency and accountability. A quarterly review process, including spend to date and forecast, should be submitted to the centre, detailing spend against budget.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'