Efficiency savings at Birmingham City Council could top £1.2 billion over the next five years, according to the man hired to change the way the local authority goes about its business.
The figure is more than twice as great as the target set out in the Gershon report, drawn up for the Government, which asks the council to find £374.5 million over three years.
Glyn Evans, director of business solutions and IT, believes the council can improve productivity by 15 per cent over the five-year period simply by adopting "smarter" working methods and better use of computer technology.
However, Mr Evans is open about the scepticism that exists at both councillor and council officer level at the prospect of both realising huge savings and improving service delivery. It will be very difficult, frankly. Local government right across the UK is a very conservative sector. Change is often resisted even if it can be seen there are better ways of working," he said.
He has already faced criticism from a scrutiny committee about the planned recruitment of a private sector consortium to advise the council on a business transformation strategy.
The two front runners to win a ten-year contract worth £300 million are consortia led by Capita and IBM.
The 15 per cent figure, which equates to £1.25 billion, has strong political backing from the council ' s Conservative-Lib Dem coalition. The project is being overseen by acting chief executive Stephen Hughes, an indication of the priority being given to the search for efficiencies. Mr Evans dismissed criticism from the scrutiny committee about the cost of bringing in consultants.
" We are not offering unlimited sums of money for something that is un-measurable. If they get it right it will be obvious, if they get it wrong they will lose the confidence of the council," he said. The savings will be split into two categories - cashable and non-cashable.
Cashable savings can be used either to reduce overall expenditure or, more likely, to boost budgets for sensitive services such as education, housing, roads and social care.
Non-cashable savings, far more difficult to quantify, are defined as any area where the council can achieve improved performance for the same financial outlay.
Examples given of ways in which savings could be realised include home working for some employees, which would allow office accommodation to be restructured, and better use of IT by a range of staff.
Mr Evans said considerable savings could be delivered if social workers were equipped with computer programmes that enabled them to order care packages while interviewing clients at home. Such technology is not available at the moment.
As much as 20 per cent of office accommodation could be released by permitting more staff to work from home or to share work stations if they had to come into the Council House. There would be fewer "posts" in future but that did not mean that the council's 52,000 workforce would be cut.
"One of the political drivers behind this is to get more people employed in areas where we are constrained at the moment - social services and education, for example," Mr Evans added. He accepts that change will only happen if councillors sign up to the business transformation agenda.
Mr Evans added: "Members have to be more engaged in the process. If they don't want to go down this route that's fine, it's their choice. But they have to give us direction about the outcomes they want to deliver."