Feeds

MPs criticise NAO's efficiency scrutiny

Smoke and mirrors

Mobile application security vulnerability report

Members of Parliament's Public Accounts Committee have shown a reluctance to accept a report on the progress of Whitehall's efficiency campaign.

The National Audit Office's (NAO) acceptance of Efficiency Review calculations came under fire from MPs at a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee yesterday.

Halfway into the three year efficiency programme, government departments have reported £13.3bn in annual efficiency savings, 62 per cent of the £21.5bn target.

An NAO report on the Efficiency Review in February 2006 treated official figures as "provisional". In its report this month the watchdog found that, although many reported efficiency gains may still be inaccurate, they were sufficiently robust to be accepted. But the broad methods for calculating gains render the figures unreliable, according to members of the all party committee.

"This is a confidence trick," said committee member Austin Mitchell MP, who went on to the describe the measurements as a "smoke and mirrors" effect.

Alan Williams MP said: "I am staggered by the laxity that this report shows." Williams was appalled that the spending review methodology takes such a broad view. "We are not talking small sums – we are talking billions," he added.

For example, in the Ministry of Defence's reported efficiency savings of £37m on its Fast Jets project, some 20 per cent of this amount was due to earlier decommissioning of fighter jets.

In evidence to the committee, John Oughton, chief executive of the Office of Government Commerce (OGC), pointed out that the scale of the Efficiency Review is unprecedented, so it is not surprising there are variations in reporting methods and calculations. A single method of calculation across all departments would not be feasible, he said.

Oughton told the MPs that although measurement needs to be improved, the figures demonstrate that great efficiencies are being made.

The review is creating a shift in attitude and culture across Whitehall, according to Oughton. "I suggest that all departments are on a journey which they were not on before the Gershon review," he said.

Changes to the role of the OGC will see it take on a more interventionist role in Whitehall.

Oughton said the agency, which supports the government's target of £21.5bn efficiency gains a year by 2007-08, has already developed closer relationships with departments. It holds monthly scrutiny meetings with permanent secretaries.

"I am confident we have got a finger on their pulse and a foot on their neck," he said.

Looking forward to the Treasury's next Spending Review, Oughton expected it to be "challenging", with a push for savings of at least three per cent. This was Oughton's last appearance before the committee. He is due to stand down at the end of March, after three years in post. Peter Fanning, currently deputy chief executive of the OGC, will serve as acting chief executive until a new appointment is made.

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

Kablenet's GC weekly is a free email newsletter covering the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. To register click here.

Bridging the IT gap between rising business demands and ageing tools

More from The Register

next story
Just TWO climate committee MPs contradict IPCC: The two with SCIENCE degrees
'Greenhouse effect is real, but as for the rest of it ...'
Adam Afriyie MP: Smart meters are NOT so smart
Mega-costly gas 'n' 'leccy totting-up tech not worth it - Tory MP
'Blow it up': Plods pop round for chat with Commonwealth Games tweeter
You'd better not be talking about the council's housing plans
Arrr: Freetard-bothering Digital Economy Act tied up, thrown in the hold
Ministry of Fun confirms: Yes, we're busy doing nothing
ONE EMAIL costs mining company $300 MEEELION
Environmental activist walks free after hoax sent share price over a cliff
Help yourself to anyone's photos FOR FREE, suggests UK.gov
Copyright law reforms will keep m'learned friends busy
Apple smacked with privacy sueball over Location Services
Class action launched on behalf of 100 million iPhone owners
UK government officially adopts Open Document Format
Microsoft insurgency fails, earns snarky remark from UK digital services head
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable
Learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.