"Defra should learn from this scheme and get a lot better at putting credible measurement arrangements in place to demonstrate whether public funds are being used properly. It appears likely that Defra’s scheme helped to deliver environmental benefits by encouraging organic farming, but we can’t draw a similar conclusion on the land management measures and I would have expected a greater environmental benefit for the taxpayer’s funding contribution."
"The Regional Development Agencies' efforts to encourage economic growth through a programme of physical regeneration have delivered real benefits. It is questionable, however, whether they could not have achieved even greater benefits from the £5 billion they have committed. It is important that the RDAs establish better appraisal and evaluation methods to identify the projects which are most beneficial and then target their funding accordingly.”
"Shortcomings in the early stages of the project put the MOD in a position where the operational pressures of an aging fleet and the need to maintain the vital air bridge restricted its ability to deliver a solution which achieved value for money.
"Despite taking five years longer than planned to sign a contract, the MOD's progress in delivering the Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft project has improved since contract signature, and the project is meeting its delivery milestones. But there is more work for the MOD and its suppliers to do to get the best out of the deal."
"Once the downturn was apparent, the Government and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills were under considerable pressure to act quickly and offer targeted support to businesses. The Department did well to balance the needs of businesses with protecting the taxpayer. However, it did not set out clear objectives, nor did it consistently record costs.
In the current fragile economic climate, the Department should consider the potential impact on business confidence as support begins to be withdrawn. In particular, it should consider action that could be taken to reduce any adverse effects and, if recovery falters, the circumstances in which support might be extended."
HC: 434, 2009-2010
"It is good to see the Home Office taking a joined up, thoughtful approach to improving its management of major projects. Taken together with the significantly improved financial control and reporting of performance, the Department is building capability in key areas."
“The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Student Loans Company underestimated, and therefore did not do enough to mitigate, the significant risks in integrating the student finance service previously carried out by 130 separate local authorities. Both bodies failed to grasp the magnitude of problems that were developing in 2009 as applications for loans, grants and allowances piled up and applicants struggled to contact the Company by telephone. In particular, students with disabilities were supported badly.
“The question must be asked how the Company, given its failure in 2009, will deal with twice as many applications in 2010, when it becomes responsible for applications from both first and second year students. The Department and the Company must give the highest priority to achieving a radical improvement in the service and, in so doing, to restoring the confidence of applicants and stakeholders. They will have to manage substantial risks.”
"My report today sets out clearly the facts surrounding current cash payments from the public service pay-as-you-go pension schemes and the basis for future projections of these payments. The Treasury has performed some analysis on the sensitivity of its projections to changing assumptions, but has not considered the potentially significant effects of changes in the size of the public service workforce.
"Later this year I intend to report to Parliament on recent changes to the schemes, which are designed partly to reduce costs."
"NOMS is successfully keeping the vast majority of short-sentenced prisoners safe and well - a notable achievement in a time of prison overcrowding - and in this respect it is delivering value.
"Achieving NOMS' goal of reducing re-offending by short-sentenced prisoners is challenging both because there are so many prisoners and because of the few weeks they have in custody. However, it is reasonable to expect progress towards that goal. More coherent plans for prisoners, tailored to reducing their risk of re-offending would be a good first step. As they take their new strategy forward, NOMS and the Ministry have the opportunity to put the management of short-sentenced prisoners on a better footing."
"There are indications that the Programme has delivered some positive results: participating businesses have reported benefits, and there should be further long term gains in terms of reductions in business waste. However, the low awareness of the Programme among businesses and the absence of clear targets and reliable information to measure progress mean we cannot say whether the Department achieved value for money from the £240 million spent on the Programme."
"Reduction in harm caused by problem drug use presents a complex and chronic challenge. This is being addressed by a series of strategies and programmes and very substantial resources: £1.2 billion a year. It is achieving improved results but we need to learn from experience as we go forward and measure effectiveness and value for money in order to make appropriate adjustments to programmes. So overall performance measurement across the range of programmes needs to be put in place."
"The Olympic Delivery Authority has done well to keep its programme on track, and it is increasingly likely that the venues and infrastructure are going to be delivered on time and budget. Nevertheless, there is still a long way to go, with less contingency funding available to meet unforeseen cost pressures.
"Plans for the delivery of the Games themselves need to be fleshed out, in particular making sure that LOCOG is on track at least to break even. In addition, securing long-term use of facilities such as the Media Centre and the Main Stadium should remain a priority to get the best out of the Games both for the taxpayer and local people."
"The FCO can do more to get value for money from its overseas estate. Although the Department has begun to remedy some of the shortcomings we identified and has started work on its strategy for managing the estate, it still needs to get the basics right. It needs to lay out the priorities for its overseas estate and work out how to get more robust information. Whilst there are examples of good practice at individual posts, the Department needs to spread this across the whole estate if it is to make real efficiencies."
"The good news is that my report has found that treatment for seriously injured personnel is highly effective. Alongside this positive finding, we point out the need to continue to improve contingency planning for facilities in the UK in the context of a longer term conflict, and the importance of increased efforts to prevent disruption due to rising levels of short term illness."
"Current services for people who suffer major trauma are not good enough. There is unacceptable variation, which means that if you are unlucky enough to have an accident at night or at the weekend, in many areas you are likely to receive worse quality of care and are more likely to die. The Department of Health and the NHS must get a grip on coordinating services through trauma networks, on costs and on information on major trauma care, if they are to prevent unnecessary deaths."
"The Pension Protection Fund has done well to retain a healthy balance sheet in trying economic times. However, it is likely that the challenge facing the Fund will increase as more schemes are transferred to it. Therefore it should continue to take appropriate steps to manage the increasing value of its assets efficiently and continue to work at improving its ability to assess the risks that it faces in periods of economic difficulty."
"Care for people who have had a stroke has significantly improved since we reported in 2005. The publication and early implementation of the stroke strategy have begun to make a real difference and have helped to put in place the right mechanisms to bring about these improvements. There is still work to be done though: the poorer performers must be dragged up to the same standard as the best, so that the gains that have been made are sustained and value for money improved further. The Department should focus on ensuring that health, social care and employment services are working together much more effectively."
"The Government sold its stake in British Energy when energy prices were at a peak, and got a good price. The biggest priority for the Government was, however, to ensure new nuclear power stations could be built from the earliest possible date and with no public subsidy. Whether it will achieve this remains to be seen. The Department of Energy and Climate Change now needs to make real progress on its contingency plans should EDF be unwilling to build new nuclear power stations."
"The Programme to make social sector housing and private sector housing for vulnerable people decent has made progress, and the families living in those properties will be enjoying the benefits. However, there are risks to both the Programme’s completion and what has been achieved so far if a reliable funding mechanism is not put in place to deliver the remainder of the Programme and to maintain homes to a decent standard. Hundreds of thousands of families are still living in properties which are not warm, weather tight, or in a reasonable state of repair. The Department’s efforts have been undermined by weaknesses in the information it holds.
There are important lessons here on the benefits of having clear information on Programmes when delivery is devolved to a local level."
"HMRC seems to be going in the right direction seeking strategic savings by reducing face to face interaction where the job can be done by telephone or online. However, this may not be much comfort if yours was one of the 43 per cent of calls which did not get an answer in 2008-09. HMRC needs to get telephone service standards up significantly if the transition to technology-enabled working is to have taxpayer support and deliver value for money."
"It is reassuring that the number of commercial vehicles involved in road accidents is decreasing and that VOSA is removing more dangerous drivers and vehicles from the road, but my report raises a number of issues which will concern those who use Britain’s roads.
“VOSA needs to focus its resources on those activities and areas where it can have most impact: for example, by looking at where its staff and stopping sites are located around the country. It needs to help to educate commercial drivers and properly identify those vehicles which pose the greatest danger. It also needs to work with other organizations, at home and abroad, to ensure that drivers and vehicles from outside the UK are as safe as those from within the UK."
"The coalfields regeneration programme has achieved positive results in job generation and improved environments. However, the programme has taken much longer than expected to deliver results and needs to be much better planned. What we want to see is a concerted effort to deliver to the coalfields the best possible value for money from the remaining £450 million of funds."
"It is worrying, when the money has already been removed from their budgets, that a significant proportion of the savings claimed by the Department for Transport and the Home Office have question marks hanging over them. A failure to deliver these savings may mean cuts having to be made elsewhere.
"Both the Department for Transport and the Home Office have had some success in reducing costs so far, but more generally all departments must now take a more rigorous approach towards ensuring large-scale, genuine savings are made."
"The Ministry of Defence has a multi-billion pound budgetary black hole which it is trying to fix with a 'save now, pay later' approach. This gives a misleadingly negative picture of how well some major projects in MOD are managed, represents poor value for money and heightens the risk that the equipment our Armed Forces require will not be available when it is needed or in the quantities promised. Bold action will be required to prioritise defence spending as part of the planned Strategic Defence Review after the General Election."
"These venture capital funds help small, often innovative, businesses that otherwise may have struggled. And there is evidence that some businesses have benefited from this support. But, in the absence of clear objectives and baselines from the start, coupled with poor financial performance to date of early funds, the Department’s programme cannot currently be said to demonstrate value for money. Finally, there is no information publicly available about the funds. BIS should be more transparent, without compromising confidentiality."
"It is difficult to imagine the scale of the consequences for the economy and society if major banks had been allowed to collapse. The Treasury was justified in using taxpayers’ money to safeguard savings and stabilise and restore confidence in the financial system.
"But the big question is what all of this will eventually cost the taxpayer. This will take time to answer. What we do know is that how the eventual sale of RBS and Lloyds is managed will be crucial to protecting the public interest. The structure of the UK banking system has changed beyond recognition. When it comes to selling its stakes in the banks, the government has to be mindful of the proceeds for the taxpayer but also of the implications for competition in the UK market, so that customers get a fair deal.
"As the crisis begins to subside, lessons must start to be learned. The authorities need to put formal arrangements in place to evaluate the effectiveness of the support provided to banks in order to inform future policy makers."
"This major contract has been significantly affected, for the contractor Mapeley in particular, by the current economic climate. Mapeley benefited when the property market was expanding but the economic downturn has made the contract more onerous. HMRC must take a significantly more astute commercial approach if it is to deliver value for money for the taxpayer."
"Last year the Legal Services Commission spent over £1 billion on criminal legal aid. With such a considerable sum of money involved, it is very important that the Commission understands the market from which it is buying and the cost effectiveness of its own practices, but at present, that is not the case. It needs to address this as a priority to make sure that it is paying a fair price for legal aid services that both sustains a competitive supplier base and provides value for money."
"To have a significant impact on chlamydia requires overall testing levels of 26 per cent or above. Only half of Primary Care Trusts reached this level in 2008-09, six years after the Programme’s launch. Combined with the local inefficiencies and duplications, this shows that the delivery of the Programme to date has not demonstrated value for money."
"Commercial skills are essential to success in complex projects and a great deal of money rests on this; but there is still not a coherent system for providing skills across government or for using the existing skills as efficiently as possible."
"DFID has contributed to poverty reduction in Malawi. Its programmes, however, are not all meeting their objectives. DFID needs better information on service outputs from the areas it funds to help improve performance and provide assurance on value for money."
"Older people want to pay the right amount of tax but too many pay more than they need to because they do not claim allowances to which they are entitled and because of errors. By providing a more coherent service, HMRC could make substantial savings as the number of enquiries from older people about their tax affairs would reduce. A win-win situation for all."
"There is always a difference between perception and reality but our testing shows that almost no businesses think that complying with regulation has become easier or less time consuming in the last year. The majority think that things have remained the same and over a third think that the burden of regulation has got worse. On the other hand, 42 per cent of businesses think that government is getting the right balance of regulation to protect people and the environment."
Interim findings and findings by Public Service Agreement
"For any organisation, monitoring and measuring performance are fundamental to improving the management of resources and the delivery of services. So the slow progress being made by some government departments in achieving better quality information about their own performance is a matter for concern. The NAO has found that some one third of the PSA data systems used by departments have weaknesses and just over a tenth remain unsatisfactory.
"Departments now have the benefit of lessons from a decade or more of outcome-oriented performance management. The Treasury has issued good guidance reflecting that experience: it now needs to enforce its application."
"The latest form of Highways Agency contracts for maintaining motorways and trunk roads provide visibility of costs and the ability to allocate risk appropriately. But, as is so often the case, a lack of probing analysis of the information which is available, and continuing gaps in some areas undermine the drive to maximize value for money. The Agency has not yet established and benchmarked the unit costs of planned maintenance tasks, such as resurfacing; and it does not have enough of the information on or analysis of the continuing condition of assets necessary to drive down whole life costs of planned maintenance projects. The Highways Agency also now needs to strengthen the engineering and commercial management skills of its area teams."
"In the light of the current fiscal position, good cash flow management is more important than ever. Departments and the Treasury are working to improve performance, but central government as a whole is not maximising value for money in the way it manages its cash.
"More money needs to be kept in the Exchequer by departments and sponsored bodies, and forecasts of cash flows should be improved. Where organisations do need to use commercial bank accounts, they should use shared knowledge to negotiate arrangements which give the best possible deal for the taxpayer."
"This is the third time we have looked at the Single Payment Scheme and there are still significant issues to be resolved. There has been a serious lack of attention to the protection of taxpayers’ interests over the administration of the scheme. There has been a lack of senior management ownership of the scheme in the Agency and DEFRA, even though the risks were previously highlighted by the Committee of Public Accounts.
"Previous assurances on overall progress in recovering overpayments from farmers proved optimistic and reflect a lack of reliable information on actual progress. DEFRA should urgently address the risks to ongoing IT system support and the inaccuracy of the scheme’s data, explore alternative payment systems and resolve the ongoing management issues."
"The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has met one but missed two of its targets to increase the number of people from underrepresented groups who visit heritage sites in England. While the targets were challenging, they should have been underpinned by a performance framework that more clearly matched the priorities and activities of English Heritage with the Department’s strategic objectives. The Department needs to review its performance management practices to ensure that the bodies it funds are working with it towards shared objectives."
"Train to Gain is achieving growth in training that employers value, but taxpayers have a right to expect that much more than half of the public funding should result in training that would not otherwise have occurred. Inconsistent management contributed to a slow start to the programme, followed by rapid growth and now the risk of demand exceeding budgets. We also need to see evidence that money is directed more to areas of greatest need, with training providers who do the best job for their learners and on bringing the whole range of business benefits to employers."
“This is a sad case of public administration failure. Warnings were first sounded years ago that there were problems but no one took responsibility for resolving them. It is essential to prevent errors on this scale from happening again, but this will happen only if one party takes responsibility for the process as a whole.”
"Patients with this debilitating and distressing disease are not identified or treated quickly enough and this dramatically affects long-term outcomes and people’s ability to remain in work. The NHS should take a more co ordinated approach to identifying people with symptoms of early rheumatoid arthritis, so that they get access to specialist care quickly and receive support and advice to help them manage and live with the disease. This would provide better value for money, better outcomes for patients, and lead to productivity gains for the economy. Some of the systemic improvements needed to manage and control this disease also apply to other long-term conditions requiring specialist-led care."
“It is clear from teachers' responses that partnering delivers motivational benefits and plays naturally to their style of collaborative working and problem-sharing. With a somewhat more demanding assessment of costs against the benefits achieved, these valuable relationships could deliver significantly more demonstrable benefits than they do now.”
“The Department of Health’s hands on approach to what seemed, in 2004, to be an intractable problem, has been successful in reducing MRSA bloodstream and C. difficile infections. This is a significant achievement and a good example of what concerted effort can achieve. Inevitably, with a focused and centrally driven initiative of this kind, the improvements are not uniform across the NHS and we still don't know in any meaningful way what impact there has been on other healthcare associated infections. We have identified a number of key problems that need to be addressed such as: a lack of robust comparable data on other infection risks; increases in antibiotic resistance and poor data on hospital prescribing; and that compliance with good practice is still not universal.”
"The Metronet PPP contracts to upgrade the Tube left the DfT without effective means of protecting the taxpayer. Metronet’s failure led to a direct loss to the taxpayer of between £170 million and £410 million. The DfT’s work with the Mayor of London, TfL and London Underground on a long term solution will need to improve governance and risk management in the new arrangements they are intending to put in place to protect the taxpayer."
“The network change programme has been implemented in a way which has met most of its targets and the closures are nearly complete with 98 per cent already done. But communication around the programme could have been better, and there is still work to do to complete the late running Outreach services, which are designed to provide facilities to communities where conventional post offices have been closed."
1. In May 2007 the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform approved plans to close up to 2,500 post offices run by sub-postmasters, partly offset by at least 500 new Outreach services, leaving a network of around 12,000 outlets. The closures are known as the Network Change Programme, which is part of a larger plan aimed at returning Post Office Ltd to profitability by 2010-11, after allowing for a £150 million annual Government subsidy. This plan also includes action to improve efficiency and Post Office Ltd’s financial performance, and to sustain revenues, in part by developing significant new revenue streams. The plan is being supported by funding of up to £1.7 billion over five years from BERR, including the £150 million annual subsidy payment in recognition of the social and economic role that post offices play.
2. Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website, which is at www.nao.org.uk. Hard copies can be obtained from The Stationery Office on 0845 702 3474.
3. The Comptroller and Auditor General is the head of the National Audit Office which employs some 900 staff. He and the NAO are totally independent of Government. He certifies the accounts of all Government departments and a wide range of other public sector bodies; and he has statutory authority to report to Parliament on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which departments and other bodies have used their resources. This report has been made by Tim Burr, who was Comptroller & Auditor General until 31 May 2009. He was succeeded by Amyas Morse on 1 June 2009.
"Greater awareness of the numbers of people with autism, as well as better understanding of autism amongst those providing health, social care, benefits, education and employment services, would lead to improved quality of life for those on the autistic spectrum. Specialist support and joint working across all areas – clinical, social and employment – could improve the transition from childhood to adult services, make services more effective and improve value for money."
“NOMS is maintaining the prison estate well and is obtaining value for money in how it does so. But there are areas to improve: the Agency needs a better understanding of the costs of planned works; it should standardise more spare parts and materials; and understand better the right time to switch from maintaining an old asset to buying new. Once these measures are in place it will help the Agency plan maintenance work, and control finances, more effectively.”
"Peaks in the workload of HM Revenue and Customs push up the cost of running the Department and reduce service quality. By changing the deadlines for tax returns and removing the need for some to be filled in, HMRC has already saved £7 million. By expanding take up of online services further, and helping people avoid unnecessary calls to contact centres, HMRC can reduce costs and provide a better, year-round service."
“The task of supporting operations in Iraq and Afghanistan is not an easy one. Despite this challenge, the Ministry of Defence has had a number of successes, particularly in providing life-saving medical treatment. But there is still more to do. By improving the management and replenishment of stocks in theatre and getting a clearer picture of what supplies are available and where they are, the MOD could make real improvements to its supply chain.”
“Making roads safer for pedestrians and cyclists is a key element in encouraging people to walk and cycle more. While their safety has improved generally, some are more vulnerable, such as child pedestrians from deprived areas. The Department for Transport needs to draw on its research programme and the lessons learned from the projects that it funds to find ways of improving safety, especially for groups most at risk.”
"The Department has made a determined effort to reduce reliance on burdensome long letters and piles of leaflets and has improved the efficiency of its communications with customers. It could, however, improve performance further by moving more of its services online. Where paper forms and letters are still necessary, it should make them more straightforward for the customer, particularly for the elderly and other vulnerable people."
"The Department has improved the effectiveness of its debt management operations. More benefit overpayments are being identified and referred for recovery action. The amount of cash recovered is increasing, but so is the amount tied up in debt, as recoveries are not keeping pace with the growth in identified overpayments. Helping more customers stay out of debt will need to be an important part of the answer."
"Recent initiatives have started to improve the financial management of EU funds, but a positive Statement of Assurance on the legality and regularity of expenditure has yet to be achieved. The implementation of Cohesion policy remains the chief source of error. The Commission will soon start work with Member States on the design of future programmes. This work presents a good opportunity to simplify some of the rules whose complexity is contributing to error in EU spending."
"Both the Ministry of Defence and the Welsh Authorities have invested a considerable amount of time, effort and money in creating modern aviation repair facilities in South Wales, with a super-hangar which is now sitting almost empty. As it happens, under the Defence Training Review there should be a future for the super-hangar at St Athan, but the Red Dragon project underlines that public bodies need to have considered all implications of their respective strategies before commencing joint projects."
Jeremy Colman, Auditor General for Wales, added:
"The Ministry of Defence and the Welsh Authorities failed to collaborate sufficiently throughout the project. Although for much of the time both had complementary objectives, they did not establish a common purpose for the project or a common understanding of their respective assumptions about the future of the site. The Red Dragon project highlights the danger in large and complex projects that involve multiple public bodies of insufficient openness and information sharing."
“The MOD is working to improve the housing stock for Service families but it will still take many years to achieve its aim of getting all families in the highest condition property. The MOD needs to press on with disposing of vacant properties so that it can focus resources on improving the remaining stock.
"The early years of the Type 45 destroyer project were beset by problems. The Ministry of Defence is currently controlling costs and timescales successfully; but it now needs to focus on installing the other equipment the ships need to obtain their full capability and on getting to grips with developing an effective support solution to be ready in time to support these destroyers."
“The initiative to introduce a single offender management database has been expensive and ultimately unsuccessful. These problems could have been avoided if the National Offender Management Service had established realistic budget, timescales and governance for the project at the start and followed basic project management principles in its implementation. In delivering the new reduced programme, NOMS need to focus on better financial controls and more effective management oversight.”
"HM Courts Service faces a tight budgetary position and needs to get the most from its estate, staff and IT resources if Crown Court cases are to start promptly. The Service needs to improve its allocation and development of staff, so that it has enough well-trained people in each of its court locations, and tackle weaknesses in IT systems which currently bring operational risks and impair efficiency."
"The Office of Fair Trading has made a determined effort to address the weaknesses found in the earlier reports. But there is more to do, and the OFT needs to make sure competition enforcement remains in the public eye and businesses are left in no doubt as to what they must do to comply with the law."
“Defra eradicated outbreaks of Avian Influenza and Foot and Mouth Disease in 2007 before they could spread further. But Bovine Tuberculosis and the Varroa parasite continue to pose significant risks to the livelihoods of farmers and beekeepers. The Department could tackle disease more effectively by working with farmers and their vets to improve farm biosecurity, and by enforcing compulsory testing as well as encouraging beekeepers to register.”
"We know from our audit work that projects and programmes are more likely to succeed and keep to time and budget where lessons have been learned and experience shared. Departments need to take learning more seriously, and encourage their staff to give it a higher priority through better recognition in reward and appraisal structures. Getting better at learning from the past will help government secure better value for money in the future."
"DWP’s services for carers are seen in a generally positive light by those taking them up, but not all eligible carers know about or take up the support on offer. Applying for Carer’s Allowance should be more straightforward, and support for carers seeking work should be more helpful by identifying part-time opportunities, in line with commitments made in the new National Strategy for Carers."
"External recruitment is a key component of ensuring that the civil service has the right skills and capacity to deliver. Departments often pay too little attention to how they manage the recruitment process. External recruitment currently takes longer and consumes more internal staff time than it should. Our report identifies a number of improvements which all organisations can make which could deliver worthwhile savings across government."
"The Maritime and Coastguard Agency coped with the recent sharp increase in the size of the UK-flagged merchant fleet by using its staff more efficiently and by delegating more of its survey work. But with fewer surveyors, the Agency is now struggling to inspect the increased fleet, which could put at risk the quality advantage of the UK flag. Better recruitment and succession planning will be needed, along with more strategic delegation to the classification societies."
"Frontline third sector organisations provide important services to the general public. ChangeUp has made good headway in improving support for these organisations while Futurebuilders loans have improved the potential of some to win public service contracts. But basic flaws in the administration of both programmes have reduced their beneficial impact to date. Value for money will depend on whether the steps now being taken successfully address these problems."
“Capability Reviews are intended to assess the organisational strengths and weaknesses of government departments. There is evidence so far that departments are indeed taking actions to improve their capabilities. It remains to be seen how far these actions will result in improvements in the delivery of public services.”
"The Warm Front Scheme has helped to alleviate fuel poverty in a large number of households. But despite changes intended to improve the targeting of the Scheme, over half of vulnerable families in fuel poverty still do not qualify, while many households unlikely to be fuel poor are able to claim a grant. The Department of Energy and Climate Change needs to improve the way it assesses eligibility for the Scheme, so that the most vulnerable households are the first to receive the assistance they need."
"The quality of published assessments of the impact of proposed regulations has improved. But the standard varies widely and, while there is better quantification of the costs and benefits, a minority still contain a superficial evidence base or standard of analysis.
"Departments should raise the standard of evidence used to assess the options for achieving the objectives of new regulations. They should also give greater thought to how regulations will be enforced after implementation."
"It was no mean feat transferring virtually all NHS staff on to a new pay system within a very constrained timeframe, and this element of Agenda for Change has been a success. On the other hand, the benefits that should have come with this new simpler system, such as more effective working, have not been wholly achieved. So the programme as a whole has further to go before it achieves the intended value for money for the taxpayer."
"The aim of the New Asylum Model is to strengthen the management of asylum applications, and it has delivered some improvements. But the system is not yet working as it should for every case. The UK Border Agency has to be sharper in gathering all relevant information as early as possible, translating it into good decisions and then speedily enforcing those decisions. There is a risk that a new backlog of unresolved cases will be created, adding to the existing backlog of 'legacy cases'."
"Defra is doing a lot to accelerate the programme of new waste treatment facilities being procured through private finance. But, at the rate at which projects are being delivered, England is at risk of missing the 2013 EU landfill reduction target, leaving the UK open to the possibility of fines. The Department will need to work hard with local authorities to achieve the planned programme of new waste treatment facilities, particularly now when private finance is difficult to raise."
"Central government spends around £12 billion each year on service contracts, many of which are critically important to the delivery of its objectives. Improving the way these contracts are managed would not only save money, but also improve services and reduce risk. There are examples where public bodies and suppliers have worked together to improve services and reduce costs. There remains a need for more qualified people to manage these contracts, and for clear performance indicators to show whether services match up to contract objectives."
“The Ministry of Defence’s major defence projects experienced further aggregate delays of 96 months and cost increases of £205 million in 2007-08. The Department has taken reasonable decisions to reflect defence priorities and progress has been made in improving procurement practice. But performance remains variable and, until the MoD and the defence industry improve their decision making processes and show sustained learning from previous projects, value for money will not be consistently delivered.”
“The Department has given local authorities a greater financial incentive to reach quicker decisions on planning applications, with more decisions on major housing schemes now being taken within 13 weeks than five years ago. Whether the speed of development has increased is less clear. The Department should use the data collected by the National Audit Office as a benchmark for assessing its future effectiveness in improving the planning process.”
Notes for Editors
1. As part of the NAO’s examination, it reviewed the case history of 100 major residential applications (i.e. developments of 10 or more homes) approved in 2006-07 by 11 Authorities, providing for the first time reliable data on how long the whole process takes.
"The surplus of £1.67 billion is equivalent to about one week’s funding for the whole NHS. The organisations in the NHS are performing better financially and this surplus has created an element of certainty for financial planning that has not existed in recent years. This is especially reassuring given current financial pressures throughout the economy.
"Auditors have found matters to be addressed, such as localised accounting issues, and there are long-standing financial problems affecting a minority of trusts. The significant challenges for the NHS next year are in meeting new International Financial Reporting Standards and tougher deadlines on closure of accounts, but it looks as though most NHS bodies are well placed to cope."
Tim Burr, the head of the National Audit Office, said:
"Good financial management is not just about achieving a surplus. It is also about meeting delivery targets within the resources available. The surplus was generated through good financial management: NHS bodies delivered more cost savings than expected while still delivering against targets and improving the quality of healthcare. But better forecasting of the outcome could enable resources to be deployed more flexibly in-year."
"For a number of years, the grant given to run and maintain the Royal Palaces has been static – and has fallen significantly in real terms. The Royal Household is making efforts to be more efficient in how it uses its funds, but there is no measure of how effectively the Palaces are being maintained. The Royal Household and Department for Culture, Media and Sport need to develop a way of measuring the condition of the estate over time, so that the Department has confidence that the future of these national assets is secure."
"By achieving strong financial performance with a portfolio weighted towards poor countries, CDC will have made a credible contribution to economic development in those countries. But the scale of that contribution, or the direct effect on poverty reduction for poor people, is harder to demonstrate. DFID needs better evidence on the scale of CDC’s impact to make sure it secures the greatest development benefits."
“Good end of life care should mean that people are treated with dignity and respect and, where possible, in their preferred place of care. Some people receive high standards of care in their final weeks, days and hours, but others do not. Organisations responsible for the care of people approaching the end of their life need to improve the planning and delivery of services, particularly support in the community. There is scope to make these improvements by using both existing and planned additional resources more efficiently and effectively.”
“Extra resources have gone into Sites of Special Scientific Interest – a key part of the natural environment in England - and results are starting to show. But many will take time to regenerate fully, so a sustained management effort and clear conservation objectives will be needed for long-term success.”
“HMRC has improved the way it manages tax debt. But it has made limited progress in implementing some measures recommended by the Committee of Public Accounts in 2004 that would help it manage the growing level of debt in a more difficult economic climate. To manage tax debt more effectively, HMRC should link different debts owed on each tax by the same taxpayer and prioritise debts which are less likely to be paid without action by the Department.”
"The IPCC has an important, high profile and sensitive role. It has made significant improvements in performance in the four years it has been in operation. But it faces challenges in managing its increasing workload and in ensuring the quality of its work. It needs to increase its productivity further, improve its quality assurance procedures for investigations, and obtain regular feedback from complainants, police officers and appellants about how their cases have been handled."
"HMRC has made it easier to import goods into the UK. The lack of information on compliance levels and the declining number of trader audits does however risk diluting the control the Department has over imports. It needs to develop ‘minimum’ levels for checks and trader audits, so that importers pay the right amount of tax and duty, and fully comply with the laws on prohibited and restricted goods."
"Much groundwork has been done in the two years since the Government decided to embark on a programme to maintain the country’s submarine-based nuclear deterrent capability beyond the life of the current system. Critical decisions about the design of the future submarine class and the commercial strategy required to incentivise monopoly suppliers now need to be taken so that the Ministry of Defence can stick to its demanding schedule and assure value for money over the life of the programme."
“The New Dimension programme has helped provide the Fire and Rescue Services with the specialist equipment and training it needs to respond to terrorist and other major catastrophic incidents. But better value for money could have been achieved, and the project has been subject to considerable delays. The Department for Communities and Local Government still needs to enhance major incident planning by Fire and Rescue Services for regional and national-scale incidents.”
“Most of the private finance projects in its portfolio of more than 50 have been delivered successfully by the Ministry of Defence. But the Department needs to be more alert to the risks that can emerge once the project is up and running, such as inaccurate performance reporting. It could also reduce procurement times by speeding up its decision-making, and by collecting better information at the outset on current and prospective use of the service and the condition of assets.”
“Alcohol misuse constitutes a heavy and increasing burden on the NHS. If services to tackle alcohol misuse are going to make a bigger difference, Primary Care Trusts need to understand better the scale of the problem in their local communities. With its increased focus on the prevention of lifestyle-related illness, the Department of Health could, for example, do more to convince Trusts about the value of timely advice to help people develop safer drinking patterns.”
“The security industry has been subject to suspicion and even criminality in the past and the Security Industry Authority has done well to set up a licensing system which has secured a high level of compliance. Poor cost forecasting and ineffective management of the licensing scheme have, however, resulted in the SIA spending over £17 million more than planned. The Authority needs to improve the quality of its forecasting and its management of the scheme so that it is better equipped for dealing with future demand for licences.”
"DFID staff work hard – often in difficult and dangerous situations – to deliver real benefits to some of the world’s most vulnerable people. DFID could still make better use of its teams’ growing experience in this field to adapt standard aid practices to meet the challenges presented by insecurity."
"Taxpayers and passengers should benefit from changes made to the franchising process for passenger rail services. The Department for Transport has contracted to save the taxpayer money while improving service quality, but it will need to see that capacity increases are well-managed and timely if passengers are to expect less crowded and more reliable journeys."
“The complaints systems for health and social care are not yet as accessible and responsive as they could be. There is a lack of learning from complaints, and providers are not making clear to users that services are being improved as result. Adequate staff training; proper tackling of complaints; and evidence of improvements in response to complaints are key pointers for the planned introduction of a new comprehensive complaints system across health and social care next year.”
“The Government’s initiative to drive down administrative burdens on business has raised awareness of regulatory reform and departments have begun to reduce some burdens. The next step is to deliver tangible benefits for businesses. Departments need to engage more directly with businesses to focus on changes that will really help, and check that the action they are taking is having the intended effect.”
“There are encouraging signs that the long-term growth in household energy consumption is reversing. But most of us still forget to turn off the lights in empty rooms, and building regulations to save energy in homes are not always followed. If targets are to be met, departments need to improve their understanding of how programmes are working in real homes, and how householders are responding to them.”
“The Prison Service has made real progress in how it buys goods and services for prisons throughout the UK. The Service spends around £450 million a year and is securing a good deal for the taxpayer in using that money. It could do still better by extending the new approach to the whole of the organisation.”
“Whilst there is general satisfaction with the services customers receive from the Department and its Agencies, there is scope to handle complaints better. The three Agencies need to record accurately customer complaints so that they can identify where they are not meeting customer needs and can improve services accordingly. Agencies also need to do more to understand why some customers are dissatisfied with the handling of their complaints.”
“This is an ambitious programme of change with the potential to provide significant benefits in terms of tax yield and improvements for the Department’s customers. To succeed the Department must determine what it expects the programme to achieve with the resources available. It should also establish that the planned benefits are realistic and confirm each year that those achieved are robust.”
"The Greenwich Peninsula is an ambitious regeneration, highlighted by the landmark O2 venue. The pace of house building is already two years behind schedule, though better progress has been made on community and commercial space. English Partnerships needs to safeguard returns to the taxpayer, both by addressing the effects of delay, and by delivering the return which is due from the success of the O2."
“The capital programme for further education is enabling colleges and the Learning and Skills Council to achieve together what neither could have achieved on their own, and is delivering high quality buildings. The sector has taken on a higher level of debt, and therefore of risk, but the cost should be manageable. If the second half of the programme can maintain the success achieved in the first, further education will be well placed to offer enhanced value for money."
“It was always going to be a demanding task for the Ministry of Defence to replace its diverse information technology with a single, high quality system. The MoD started with a clear vision of what it wanted to achieve and acted to address known risks. But the Programme has run into difficulties and further concerted action will be needed to increase the rate of roll out of terminals and to deliver the remaining software.”
"The MoD’s focus has been on supporting troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Under difficult circumstances, it has ensured the armed forces have the Hercules aircraft they need. But delays to the A400M aircraft, as well as the stresses and strains caused by sustained operational use of the existing Hercules fleet, are stretching both aircraft and aircrew and could in time pose risks to their future effectiveness."
“The preparations for the Games are well underway. But important challenges remain which will become more formidable as the spotlight turns to London after the Beijing Games. Uncertainties over the deal for the village, legacy requirements and policing and security may add cost or compromise the preparations for a successful Games. The delivery bodies need to maintain a firm stance on cost and keep in sight the intended legacy benefits too.”
“The Skills for Life strategy is making good progress in improving the skill levels of adults with poor literacy, language and numeracy skills. Building on this progress, the Department needs to reduce regional variations in participation and in achievement levels for people with literacy or numeracy needs. It could also work more closely with other parts of government to encourage people to take up Skills for Life courses.”
"Since 2001 the MOD has been trying to work out how to make the Chinook Mk3 helicopters available for operations. Its original Fix to Field project progressed very slowly. In 2007 changing operational imperatives meant that the Department decided to start a new reversion project to make the helicopters operational more quickly, though with a lesser capability. The Chinook Mk3 story reemphasises the importance of timely decision making, clearly understanding requirements and proceeding purposefully to the solution."
“It is disappointing to see a programme which aimed to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of a department leaving it on current projections some £80 million worse off. Departments need to be realistic about the challenges of implementing shared services and to manage suppliers effectively. Over the past year the Department has made efforts to improve the performance of the Shared Services Programme and it cannot afford to fail."
“Grants awarded in the culture, media and sport sector support a diverse range of programmes, from funding education schemes for children to getting more people involved in sport. Grant-makers do, however, need to get a better handle on the costs and efficiency of their grant making if they are to demonstrate that as much of the money as possible goes into cultural and sporting activities rather than on administrative overheads.”
"The scale of the challenge involved in delivering the National Programme for IT has proved to be far greater than envisaged at the start, with serious delays in delivering the new care records systems. Progress is being made, however, and financial savings and other benefits are beginning to emerge. The priority now is to finish developing and deploying care records systems that will help NHS Trusts to achieve the Programme’s intended benefits of improved services and better patient care."
“There has been some improvement in financial management of EU funds in 2006, but there are still significant challenges to achieving a positive Statement of Assurance on legality and regularity of expenditure. To reduce the level of error the Commission needs to strengthen its supervision of Structural Measures expenditure. But with some three-quarters of European expenditure managed by Member States, they too have a major role in improving the financial management of European Union funds. The United Kingdom’s forthcoming account of its own use of European Funds is a helpful development.”
“The Highways Agency’s procurement identified the risks to the National Roads Telecommunications Services project and successfully transferred them to the private sector, conducting negotiations with the preferred bidder well. It did however take a lot longer than planned and only two bidders remained through to the end of the competition. There are good practice lessons both for the Agency and for other major public procurements”
"HM Revenue & Customs has experimented with new ways of encouraging people into the formal economy and it is managing to detect more unpaid tax. It could make better use of penalties and secure greater publicity for prosecutions to discourage people from operating in the hidden economy. With well over £1 billion in unpaid tax each year, it is important that the Department becomes more effective in tackling the problem."
“The removal of price controls is an important step in the development of competition in these markets, but it is not the end of the story. Ofcom, Ofgem and Postcomm need to be vigilant, and be prepared to use their other powers when necessary, to ensure genuine competition is present and that it is working to serve consumers.
“And there are clear lessons for regulators considering removing price controls in other markets. In particular they must be more diligent in getting all the data they need and ensuring that their decision making is transparent and makes good use of consultation.”
"With four years to go until the London Olympic and Paralympic Games, elite athletes need to know what support they will receive for 2012. Clear targets also need to be set for the level of success to be achieved at the Games, with the substantial funding available."
“In addition to frustrating passengers, train delays cost the economy over £1 billion year. The rail industry has made progress in keeping trains moving, despite the rise in traffic on the network but, when incidents happen, passengers should get better information about what is happening. All sections of the rail industry need to improve their incident planning to keep trains moving quickly and safely.”
"The Offenders’ Learning and Skills Service has made less progress than it might have done in helping offenders to get back into work after they are released, one of the most important factors in reducing reoffending. Some of the fundamentals, which departments have known about for years, are still not in place – matters like identifying which courses most help offenders to get a job, identifying which offenders need which skills, and helping more of them to finish a course they start. The Departments’ action plan, to be issued shortly, must make it crystal clear how these problems will be addressed effectively."
“It is good news that the Department has recognised and is addressing its poor past performance on financial management. But there is still some way to go before we can feel confident that public money is being spent effectively and efficiently. The Department needs to maintain these first steps, if it is to cope in the tough financial environment reflected in the 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review.”
“The Parole Board has a central role to play in the effective running of the judicial system. It is working hard to improve its performance in managing its workload. But if the Parole Board is to make decisions about the release of prisoners which are both fair and minimize the risk of harm to the public for the Board to do its job properly, it must have access to complete information. Currently that is not always happening.”
“There is no doubt that a new GP contract was needed and there are now 4,000 more GPs than five years ago. But in return for higher pay, we have yet to see real increases in productivity. The extra money flowing into practices has largely benefited GP partners rather than rewarding other important members of the practice team. Primary Care Trusts now need to deliver to patients the benefits that were expected in return for GPs increase in pay.”
“The Government’s digital switchover programme will affect almost every home in the UK and most of the costs will be met by consumers. Helping consumers through the switchover process requires strong and coordinated working between Government and delivery agencies.
“Progress so far is encouraging, but there is a long way to go with almost one third of licence fee payers still not understanding switchover, up to 26 million analogue television sets yet to be replaced or converted and nearly 1,200 transmitter sites to be upgraded.”
“My report recognises the considerable achievement that has been made delivering over 800 centres to a high quality standard, under budget. The project team controlled costs effectively and achieved savings against the budget – for example by introducing better procurement arrangements. There are lessons here for other Government departments undertaking major procurement projects.”
“Violent crime is an issue everyone will have read about and it is something which a fifth of the adult population have said they worry about. The rise of gun and knife crime is something that will deeply concern every community and the impacts of this sort of criminal activity can devastate individuals and destabilise communities.
“To date, the Home Office has not had a long term, strategic approach to tackling violent crime. It has this week published a new Tackling Violence Action Plan which we all hope will deliver results.”
“Budget support can help developing country governments deliver basic services to some of the world’s most vulnerable people. But to ensure that money provided by the UK is spent by governments in the most efficient and effective way and that it reaches the people who need it, DFID needs to improve further some of the basics. These include setting more precise objectives, monitoring progress more systematically, and clarifying the risks to UK funds.”
“Some progress has been made in tackling unemployment rates within ethnic minority groups, but the reality is that over recent years, while there has been a slow but steady improvement, the overall reduction in the employment gap has been modest.
“The Department for Work and Pension’s strategy has been fragmented but is being refocused on those living in deprived areas. While this provides opportunities to help those most disadvantaged, it carries the risk that some ethnic minorities may not receive the help they need to get a job. Unless the Department is prepared to do more to reach out to the ethnic minority communities, prospects for increasing their employment rate remain bleak”
“There is some evidence that community orders can reduce the likelihood of reconviction, but I am concerned by gaps in the National Probation Service’s knowledge about its management of these sentences. The Service needs to identify its capacity to deliver community orders and the associated costs, and the effectiveness of different order requirements in reducing reconviction.
“As a matter of urgency, the Service should establish a mechanism to monitor and report the number of orders not completed in accordance with courts’ wishes.”
“The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority took on the tough job of decommissioning the UK’s legacy nuclear facilities. It has put a lot of effort into determining the scale and nature of the task ahead. Whilst the scale of the task is now better defined, estimates of costs to the taxpayer have continued to rise. At the same time, the start and stop nature of decommissioning work at some sites lessens the value for money of the significant resources invested to date.”
“The Department should be commended for its management of the review, having achieved its savings targets. But there are lessons to be learnt more generally about making sure that targets are clear and focused on delivering value for money and improving performance. And it is essential that departments are able to measure their progress against a clear set of baselines, which need to be identified before projects start.”
“The Department for Work and Pensions has made tackling benefit fraud a priority and has made good progress in reducing fraud, which represents a substantial achievement by its staff. It is also ahead of other comparable countries in its measurement and understanding of benefit fraud.
“The Department’s specific counter-fraud activities cost £154 million during 2006-07 and identified £106 million of overpaid benefits. Although some of the Department’s initiatives lead to earlier interception of overpayments and may deter potential fraudsters, I believe the Department could do more to determine whether its activities are cost effective.”
“PFI deals have proven to be flexible to change and, when considering that these deals will span a number of decades, that is essential. Now that an increasing number of PFI deals are in their operational stage, and change will inevitably be needed over time, the public sector has to raise its game to get a better outcome and use the guidance and resources available, particularly as changes made to operational projects have not always provided value for money.”
“Bringing services online can save money and raise the quality of the service received. I am pleased to see that, by following good practice, the Agencies have improved the service they offer drivers. However, there is scope for improvement, and I would urge the Department to continue to evaluate current pilots and investigate ways of using the technology to further improve the services offered.”
“Good quality data are essential if performance measures and targets are to be used effectively to improve public sector delivery and accountability. It is good news that data systems are improving, but departments must transfer these lessons to their new data systems. If we are to have confidence in the performance reported by government, all systems used to monitor it must be robust.”
“Neonatal services are a challenging and necessarily innovative area of medicine, caring for some of the National Health Service’s most vulnerable patients who must receive the best care possible. Efforts made by the Department to improve the service to date are encouraging, but there is still more to do. Top of the list must be addressing the staffing and capacity problems. And it is impossible to say whether the introduction of networks have improved the overall value for money of the service because of the lack of data on outcomes and the variable state, and use of, financial management information.”
“The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority’s performance has got worse since I last reported on it in 2000. It is taking longer to deal with cases, it has not reduced the number of ineligible applications and has frequently missed its targets over the years.
“Delays in resolving these issues can make it more difficult for victims to move on from a traumatic experience. CICA has started a major overhaul of how it operates. We look to CICA to make swift improvements in the service it provides to victims.”
"Getting these reforms right will be vital to the futures of many of our young people. In many cases, local institutions and people on the ground are responding impressively to the need for genuine collaboration to deliver the best education possible for all young people. But the less well developed areas still have much to do to provide all the options young people will be entitled to by 2013."
"Since my report over a year ago on the implementation of the Single Payment Scheme, the Rural Payments Agency has made encouraging progress in remedying the problems I highlighted, as demonstrated by an increase in farmers’ satisfaction with the handling of their claims.
"But, until the Agency is in the position consistently to meet the June deadline each year and can process payments within an acceptable tolerance of error, the risk is that farmers’ confidence in the scheme will wane and the European Commission will levy financial penalties."
"The NHS achieved a surplus in 2006-07 after a period of rising deficits. But this is not a time to be complacent; both the Department and the NHS accept that a number of challenges remain.
"The national picture is one of financial balance, but there remains a relatively small core of NHS organisations that continue to report significant deficits. There is no doubt that good financial management is linked to good patient care in the long term. A failure to keep a tight grip on financial performance will undermine service quality, an area in which the NHS must not let patients down."
"Crisis Resolution Home Treatment teams are really beginning to prove their worth in the NHS. They are providing significant benefits and increased satisfaction for service users and reducing pressure on hospital beds.
"However, a lack of resources and a lack of multi-disciplinary support are limiting what these teams can do. And not all of those who would benefit from this service are being considered for it. These issues need to be addressed if the service is to improve."
"Central government needs to get much better at managing its corporate services. Shared services have the potential to deliver significant efficiency savings but it is not yet clear that the £1.4 billion of savings estimated by the Cabinet Office will be achieved."
“Government departments have a challenging time ahead in addressing the efficiency of their office accommodation. There are positive signs of departments beginning to engage with the issue, but there is still a vast amount of change required. Government is still a long way from achieving full value from its office estate.”
“The move to privatise QinetiQ was effective in safeguarding the viability of a business of national importance and secured half a billion pounds for the taxpayer. However, I believe more money should have been secured for the public purse.
“And it is of concern that the Ministry of Defence did not seek specialist advice on the incentive scheme, which resulted in the top ten managers owning shares worth £107m. This level of return exceeded what was necessary to incentivise management.
“The MoD must now be proactive in managing the remaining risks to deliver the long term value for money from the deal.”
“Climate change presents very serious global risks. The Carbon Trust has done a good job at persuading businesses and public sector organisations to start tackling the problem and its work to date has proved value for money. Its achievement in reducing carbon dioxide emissions in 2006-07 by up to two million tonnes is commendable, but it is a small one in view of the scale of the challenge ahead. The Carbon Trust needs to build on its good work and extend its drive to encourage business leaders to review the carbon footprint of their organisation and to take decisive action to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.”
"The UK government has a responsibility to ensure the security and good governance of the overseas territories, and I'm encouraged by areas of progress made in the last ten years.
"Though they share many challenges the Overseas Territories are a very diverse group. There is more that can be done to help all Territories consistently reach the best standards already to be found amongst them."
"Many initiatives led by the Department for Work and Pensions have increased the number of people entering work and, as such, have made a difference. However, for some people, help in finding work is only part of the solution, they also need support during the transition as they start a new job, and help to increase their skills so they can stay in work and move up the ladder.
"The Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills need to work together, and to join up national initiatives with local action so that people are not just helped into work, but to stay in work."
“Housing market renewal is a radical programme but it is a high risk approach. While there have been physical improvements in some neighbourhoods, it is unclear whether intervention itself has led to improvement in the problems of low demand. And in some cases intervention has exacerbated problems in the short-term.
“The Department for Communities and Local Government needs to make sure that pathfinders not only delivers its regional development plans, but also complements the broader regeneration of areas contributing to better schools and transport links.”
"There were two main risks to successful delivery of the Bicester asylum centre: one related to project management, such as delays, higher costs and falling benefits; and the second a change in the demand for such a facility, due to other initiatives. Unfortunately, both of these risks were realised.
"Bicester highlights the need for Departments to identify, for schemes that require planning permission, the impact of planning delays on cost and delivery using a range of scenarios. The Home Office must now move forward and consider how to get best value from the empty site in Bicester."
“My report in 2002 into Opra detailed a number of failings, so to be able to report good progress by its successor in establishing new regulatory arrangements is very welcome.
“The Pensions Regulator has successfully put in place a framework to identify and address the key issues and risks to private sector final salary pension scheme members. Central to that has been the strategy of addressing the areas of greatest risk. The next step for the Regulator is to continue its push to roll out the same level of regulatory oversight to money purchase schemes as it has for final salary schemes.”
“Government has so far not given enough thought to how it disposes of its computers and related equipment. Growing concerns about the environment and the increasing volumes of equipment means this issue is becoming more important.
“Government needs to understand better the trade-offs between securing better immediate financial value and the wider environmental costs and benefits associated with the disposal of ICT equipment. It should then use this knowledge to develop appropriate procurement and disposal strategies.”
“The practical realities for people leaving the Armed Forces can be very demanding. The process of finding a new home and a new job at the same time is something most of us would find quite stressful. So it is encouraging that most make that transition smoothly, and without too many troubles.
“And undoubtedly, part of that is due to the good support the Ministry of Defence provides to those leaving the Forces. It is important that all those leaving the Services know what support is due to them, and have the opportunity to take advantage of it.”
"Compared to most other countries, a high proportion of students in higher education are successfully completing their courses. This is a good achievement at a time when higher education is being opened up to more students. But variations in retention rates between higher education institutions indicate that retention could be increased further, bringing major benefits to the extra students who would complete their studies and more value to the taxpayer and the economy from the public funds expended on higher education."
“Once again I have had to qualify my opinion on the Department for Work and Pensions accounts because of the significant sums lost to fraud and error: £2.5 billion or 2.1% in the last year.
“At the same time I have been able to remove two aspects of the qualification of the Department’s accounts which is a clear tribute to the leadership evident within the Department in tackling these issues.”
“There is no certainty that the Administrative Burdens Reduction Programme will deliver its intended objectives. For regulatory reform to succeed, departments must understand business and measure and communicate results. So far, they have made a pragmatic start. Businesses, however, are not convinced that the programme will make a real difference to them. I will revisit this to check on progress.”
"Large businesses are a significant contributor to the UK economy. The recommendations in my report will help the Department manage the risks to Corporation Tax revenues more effectively and work more collaboratively with large businesses. The Department should embed cultural and behavioural changes in the everyday practice of its staff to achieve these aims."
"The Olympic Games is now on a firmer financial footing thanks to the budget announced in March 2007. This should help all those involved in delivering the Games to move forward with greater confidence.
"However a budget is just that - a budget not a target. The Department must still work to contain funding and achieve value for money, and should make clear what will be delivered for the public’s money. There will be a need for clear and quick decision making on funding, effective commercial arrangements with suppliers, and finalisation of designs and legacy plans."
The report makes recommendations to manage risk in relation to the budget. Those which require immediate action are:
'I was concerned last year that the significantly higher rates of VED evasion by motorcyclists might undermine confidence in the DVLA's enforcement regime. My concern is even stronger this year, given the sharp jump in the evasion by motorcyclists, and by motorists more generally.'
'It must be brought home to persistent non-payers of VED, whether motorcyclists or car drivers, that they will sooner or later be subject to enforcement action.'
“The former Department of Trade and Industry has settled some 575,000 coal health compensation claims which in itself would be a major achievement, but it did not prepare itself properly for introducing the schemes for these two serious mining related injuries. In the early stages the consequences were significant. The taxpayer has paid too much in administration costs and many claimants, some of whom are elderly and infirm, have had to wait a long time for their compensation.
“But the Department also showed what can be achieved once it started to get its act together. These schemes illustrate important lessons for other government departments when establishing and implementing future compensation schemes.”
"The Ministry of Defence has made significant reductions in the cost of repairing and maintaining its jets, whilst broadly maintaining aircraft availability. On this basis, the changes represent value for money and underline the benefit of the MoD's approach to partnering with industry and rationalising repair activity.
"However, risks remain and it is important for the MOD to continue to manage these so as not to compromise the good work it has done in this area."
Progress has been made by departments and agencies in getting more information on the web. When I last reported on this subject in 2002 I reported weaknesses in information across government on the cost and usage of its websites. Todays report highlights that little improvement has been made in these areas. Departments need to focus on understanding the cost effectiveness of their websites and who uses them and why, so that they can better meet the needs of citizens. I therefore welcome the initiatives of Directgov and businesslink.gov.uk which aim to streamline and rationalize the Governments web estate and should help to concentrate minds and focus efforts.
On tax credits
“Once again, the levels of claimant error and fraud in the tax credit schemes are unacceptably high. This has led me to qualify my audit opinion on regularity of these payments. It is important that the Department now targets reductions in levels of error and fraud and considers how its compliance teams can engage more widely with tax credit claimants.”
On income tax (PAYE)
“HMRC’s computer systems are no longer well suited to the efficient administration of income tax especially where people have more than one job or change jobs frequently. This has led to employees paying too much or too little tax. HMRC has put in place a number of measures to improve the quality and timeliness of PAYE processing, in advance of its implementation of a new computer solution in 2008. The Department should quantify the success of its measures in reducing levels of error within PAYE.”
On income tax (self-assessment)
“The Department has made good progress in engaging with taxpayers through the internet. However, a million taxpayers still failed to submit their returns by the 31 January deadline. The Department must continue its work to target groups who are more prone to non-compliance, for example those new to self-employment and subcontractors in the construction industry.”
On VAT missing trader fraud
“The Department has strengthened the operational measures it uses to tackle missing trader fraud, and this is to be welcomed. The Council of the EU has approved legislation to allow the Department to apply a reverse charge, which it can apply to criminals trading in goods associated with the fraud, namely mobile phones and computer chips. There is still a significant risk however, that fraudsters will simply switch their trade to other goods not covered by the reverse charge. Missing trader fraud is a major challenge right across the EU. It will need concerted action by all Member States to find a long term solution to this problem.”
"Impact Assessments should be at the heart of the policy making process, but they have not always being used effectively. They need to add to the substance and effectiveness of the policy making process, not be viewed as a box to tick"
"HMRC has improved its processing of income tax returns but there are still substantial numbers of taxpayers who are affected by processing errors. Vulnerable groups such as pensioners are likely to be disproportionately affected. The recommendations in my report will help the Department build on the work already underway to improve the processing of tax returns."
"For too long dementia has not been treated as a high priority. Today's report shines a light on how significant an issue dementia is and how much scope there is to improve the way in which people who suffer from dementia are treated.
"Our rapidly ageing population means that costs for addressing dementia will continue to increase and, without redesign, services for people with dementia are likely to become increasingly inconsistent and unsustainable. Dementia can no longer be set aside. The issues raised in this report need to be addressed as a matter of urgency."
Todays report highlights a number of problems experienced by the Department while implementing its compensation scheme for Icelandic water trawlermen. The scheme had evident shortcomings that inhibited efficient and effective delivery of the scheme objectives. Better preparation by the Department prior to launching the scheme would have put it in a much stronger position to deliver an effective service to claimants.
The Ombudsman highlighted, in her report in February 2007, a lack of Government guidance on designing compensation schemes. It is important that other departments learn the lessons outlined in our report so that the same mistakes are not made again.
“The Agency has made progress in improving how it manages England’s flood defences since I last reported in 2001. But climate change is likely to increase the number of homes and businesses at risk of flooding in the future.”
“If the Environment Agency has any chance of meeting its future targets it must now focus more consistently on improving the condition of its high risk flood defences. Its work in the best performing regions shows that this is possible.”
“Today’s report paints a mixed picture of sickness absence in the Department for Transport and its agencies. While some parts of the Department compare favourably against other public and private sector organisations and all parts of the Department appear to be proactive in managing sickness absence, the high rates in the customer-facing agencies of DVLA and DSA are worrying.
“The central department appears to have a good record of sickness absence but that does not absolve it from the responsibility to hold those agencies with high levels of sickness absence to account.”
The report makes recommendations on how the Department should better manage sickness absence. These include making line managers more aware of responsibilities when it comes to sick leave, making earlier use of occupational health services and ensuring better quality standards for recording sickness absence. Specific recommendations to agencies include the DVLA bringing long term sickness absence to a swifter resolution.
“It is important that public officials test the cost and quality of facilities services to get value for money during the life of a PFI contract. My report highlights lessons in how value-testing should be carried out. In particular, public officials must have the necessary skills, must promote vigorous competition when value testing, and they must have a full understanding of whether and how the private sector’s price and service proposals offer value for money.”
The report recommends that the recent Treasury guidance be taken up by departments and that the Treasury should continue liaising with departments to identify suitable cost data to use in benchmarking. The NAO also urges that further steps should be taken to compare the cost and quality of facilities services under the PFI with conventional outsourcing experience.
“The Thames Gateway is the most ambitious regeneration and development programme in Western Europe. If these ambitions are to be realised it is crucial that there is stronger cross-government leadership and clearer objectives for local partners to work towards. An overall programme plan to coordinate projects and give a live picture of what has been achieved and what remains to be done is an urgent priority.”
“We have found that some small changes in prescribing behaviour can lead to substantial savings for the NHS. All primary care trusts should learn from the best performing PCTs and strive to be as efficient in their own prescribing, making the £200 million in savings realistically achievable.”
“The FSA has done well in managing the merger from 11 regulatory bodies to become one of the world’s first unified financial services regulators. In doing so, it has created strong and effective structures.
“But the challenge for the FSA is now to move to the next level. It must do more to demonstrate its impact; to get a clearer understanding of how much its different activities cost; and, crucially, to streamline its processes and advice, to benefit industry and consumers.”
"Tax can be a complicated matter so it is important to make it as easy as possible for taxpayers to understand and comply with their tax obligations. My report shows how forms and guidance can be made more accessible and the importance of grasping opportunities to simplify the complex rules and procedures."
“Consultants are central to the work of our national health service and deserve to be paid properly for the work that they do. However, the new contract was introduced to benefit not only consultants, but patients and the health service in general. Although a new contract was needed it is regrettable that the costs are higher than expected and that we are not yet seeing any clear evidence of improvements in productivity or services for patients.
“It is important that trusts are clearer about what they need from their consultants and plan within their resources”
“There has been some improvement in financial management of EU funds in 2006, but there are still significant challenges to achieving a positive Statement of Assurance on legality and regularity of expenditure. To reduce the level of error the Commission needs to strengthen its supervision of Structural Measures expenditure. But with some three-quarters of European expenditure managed by Member States, they too have a major role in improving the financial management of European Union funds. The United Kingdom’s forthcoming account of its own use of European Funds is a helpful development.”
“The effectiveness of our armed forces depends fundamentally on the quality of their living and working accommodation. The Ministry of Defence is working hard to improve the management of its estate and its current strategy, if pursued consistently, should build on recent progress and bring further dividends in future.”
“The Heritage Lottery Fund has done valuable work in preserving the UK’s heritage and promoting access to it. However, it needs to do more to simplify its procedures, to provide better support to applicants and grant recipients and to reduce time and cost overruns.”
“The Department for Transport and the Highways Agency need to define more clearly the risks to estimates at the point schemes enter into the programmes and the Agency should make sure that they have sufficient numbers of skilled project management and commercial staff”.
“The rural poor do not always receive as much aid and assistance as their numbers warrant. Despite urbanisation, the majority of the world’s poorest people still live in rural settings and by 2015 two thirds of the poor will still be there.
“We acknowledge the difficulties in reaching the rural poor. DFID must continue its good work providing much needed aid to developing countries, but with a stronger focus on the most vulnerable people in rural areas.”
“The tendering process is a vital part of the whole PFI deal and the recommendations in my report need to be acted on to secure better tendering and value for money.”
“One in three in our survey told us that they had not been made aware that mediation was an option. The Legal Services Commission needs to publicise the advantages of mediation and remove the financial disincentives to solicitors of recommending this option to their clients. Mediation can provide a less adversarial route than the courts for many families involved in family breakdown and result in savings in legal aid of over ten million pounds a year.”
“Despite the Shareholder Executive’s limited powers, it has up to now provided good value for money to parliament and the taxpayer. The Executive has gone a long way in improving how government acts as a shareholder and should be commended for this.
“However, a number of barriers have been identified that could lead to future inefficiencies; and improvements could be made to the way in which the Executive’s performance is measured. The Government should take on board our recommendations if it is to build on its early work and set stretching targets for increasing the value of all public sector businesses"
"Our report today shows that the Academies programme is improving the standards of education and raising the achievements of pupils from deprived backgrounds. These are early days and more remains to be done, especially in improving English and maths results. The challenge for academies is to sustain the improvements while also spreading their benefits more widely in their communities.
"For the programme, the challenge is to manage capital costs better for the hundreds of new academies still planned to be built and to use the lessons from the programme, for example on good quality school buildings, to get good value for money for the large capital investment currently being made in academies and other secondary schools."
“On current performance, there is a risk that the work of the Assets Recovery Agency will not be self-financing by 2009-10. As a matter of urgency, the Agency must develop robust management information, incorporating specific targets for the completion of the cases it investigates and introduce time-recording to assess the resources devoted to them.
“The Agency has to do more to ensure it fulfils its statutory role of monitoring the accreditation of Financial Investigators both inside and outside the Agency. It must follow up on individuals who have not complied with professional development requirements and, where necessary, remove the accreditation of people who don’t make the grade.”
"This year I have been impressed with the improvement in timeliness of government accounts submitted for audit, and I believe the steps taken by the Treasury and departments to improve their financial management are delivering benefits.
"A few departments still have some way to go in providing high quality accounts on a timely basis, but this should not overshadow the significant improvement achieved by the majority. For departments to be able to plan effectively and make informed decisions, their financial information must be robust and complete."
“The Identity and Passport Service used sound project management techniques and made effective use of technical specialists to ensure the ePassports project was delivered on time and UK ePassports meet international standards.
“However, the full security benefits of ePassports will not be realised until UK border control readers are fully upgraded, and it is only then that we will know the impact of this new technology on travellers. To ensure future projects deliver value for money, the Identity and Passport Service should aim to improve its engagement with other parts of government, and develop greater in-house expertise to reduce its reliance on external consultants.”
“Bringing together the best of the public and private sector has clear benefits in improving the quality of public sector services. But in such cases attention must be paid to protecting government spending and value for money for the taxpayer. By taking the decision not to carry out a formal competitive tender process in this instance, the Department cannot demonstrate that the joint venture was the best structure to meet its needs or that it represents good value for money.
“The London Olympic and Paralympic Games may seem a long way away, but with a programme of this magnitude it is vital to keep the momentum up. There is a lot more to do and a variety of risks to be managed if the Games are to be a success. Failure in any one area will impinge on others. Finalising the budget should be a priority to allow the Olympic programme to move forward with greater confidence and certainty.
“As well as learning from the experience of other cities that have hosted the Games, I have also arranged with my counterpart in China to learn lessons from the Beijing Games in 2008 that could usefully be applied to London.”
“The introduction of a shared plan covering all the Research Councils is beginning to deliver new large facilities which will be available to scientists from across the research base. Improvements are needed however, if the benefit of the current planned £1.2 billion investment in scientific facilities is to be maximised. Before a project is approved, the range of scientific, industrial and economic benefits should be consistently specified.
“The full financial impact of a facility also needs to be better understood to make sure that only those projects which are sustainable in the long term are selected. More consistent application of Government-wide project review procedures and greater sharing of procurement practices would help teams to deliver timely and economical projects.”
“A good understanding of the needs of water consumers should be at the heart of Ofwat’s regulatory regime. The regulator must work to achieve robust and reliable data on how consumers use water and on how effective water efficiency projects are in conserving water. This data can then be used to underpin its regulatory decisions.
“In the case of leakage problems in the Thames region over the last six years, Ofwat has now taken direct action with a view to protecting the consumer. It must ensure, in future, that its enforcement actions are timely and focused on the consumer.”
Licence fee payers are naturally anxious to know their money is being used as efficiently as possible. I am satisfied that the Department has enough information at its disposal to take a view on the BBC’s efficiency when determining the level of the next licence fee settlement.
"Good clinical governance is essential if patients and the public are to have greater confidence in the NHS. Whilst Primary Care Trusts have made good progress in getting structures and processes in place, there has been less progress in actually implementing the fundamental components of clinical governance, particularly patient and public involvement.
"Our recommendations provide a clear steer to enable the new Primary Care Trusts to create a professional culture within their organisations that accepts and promotes as the norm accountability, the learning of lessons and the pursuit of high quality, safe care for patients."
“Though it is too early to tell the long-term impact of Sure Start children’s centres on children's lives, we do know that families value the services they provide. It is vital that the services reach the most needy members of our communities. For the future, local authorities and the centres should focus on gaining a better understanding of their costs, and on working effectively with other agencies to get the maximum value from the resources available through children’s centres.”
“The Police Service of Northern Ireland is facing a formidable challenge in transforming its estate, but work to modernise the estate is leading to visible improvements.
“Progress has been slower than expected, and while the PSNI is taking steps to strengthen its estate management, it still has much to do if it is to deliver on time its five year plan to transform its estate and deliver better value for money.”
"Public sector organisations are being challenged now to gain greater value for money from their procurement activities. OGCbuying.solutions has made good progress in enabling public sector organisations to achieve good value for money in the procurement of goods and services. But it could do much more by improving its performance. This would be helped by greater co-ordination of the many public sector bodies carrying out procurement activities."
“The Home Office has recognised the need to improve its financial management and the action taken this year led to a better set of accounts. Building on the improvements to its accounts production processes, there is much to be done to embed a culture of strong financial management at the heart of the Department. As part of this, the Home Office will need to continue to build a high quality team of in-house finance professionals.”.
“Whilst 65 per cent of people in our case review did not go on to commit any further anti-social behaviour after receiving one anti-social behaviour intervention, there is a hard core of individuals who repeatedly behave in an anti-social way and for whom more action is needed.
“The Home Office should formally evaluate the success of different interventions and the impact of combining enforcement interventions with support services to better advise Anti-Social Behaviour Co-ordinators at a local level. They should also consider developing and implementing further more preventive measures to tackle the causes of anti-social behaviour.”
"Newly registered businesses are a diverse group, ranging from those setting up in business for the first time to those with previous business experience, so increasing tax compliance among this group requires a flexible approach which targets the differing needs of businesses. Pursuing the recommendations highlighted in this study will help HM Revenue and Customs in further improving the ability of new businesses to deal with their tax affairs.
Introducing a unique tax identifier would require substantial resources but could also result in substantial benefits, enabling HMRC to view the entire tax affairs of individual businesses and achieve a better understanding of the needs of different groups of taxpayers."
“Overall my findings are encouraging. Personal advisers have proved themselves an effective means of supporting people on benefits looking for work and they are delivering a good service. But, as my report shows, the benefits could be even greater. Better support for personal advisers would allow them more time to do what they do best - actually sitting down with the people who need guidance.”
"The Community Fund have made progress in improving their controls aimed at ensuring lottery money is spent on the causes for which it was intended, but there is more still to do to reduce the risk of loss through fraud. When grants are fraudulently obtained, the real losers are the voluntary and charitable groups who could have put this money to good use."
“When the Strategic Rail Authority stepped in, the project to modernise the West Coast Main Line was in disarray, vastly over-budget and with few of the planned improvements in place. It was only through good direction by the Strategic Rail Authority and then the Department for Transport and through the exercise of firm management by Network Rail that the project was brought back on track so that benefits of faster journeys are now being delivered to passengers.
“The weaknesses in the management of the project before 2002 should provide ample warning of the dangers of entering into a scheme on this scale without clear leadership, plans and project management expertise; without fully engaging stakeholders; and using untried technologies.
"Future major projects should draw upon these lessons learned, give careful consideration up front to the potential effects of programme slippage and include plans to minimise these risks.”
“IT projects in the public sector have too often been associated with failure – this report provides an opportunity to change that. Learning from experience is not just a case of appreciating what went wrong, but also encompasses understanding what went right. Success can never be guaranteed, but it should not be an unfathomable mystery. The common threads among these IT programmes and projects are evidence that a favourable outcome is not a matter of luck, but is the result of sound judgement.”
“The Department for Work and Pensions has shown a clear determination to resolve these long standing problems and early signs suggest some real reductions in the volume of fraud and error can be expected. It is always encouraging to see such progress, but the scale of the challenge ahead remains considerable.
“The fact is that, in 2005-06, an estimated £2.7 billion was paid out to people who weren’t entitled to the money.”
"The Ministry of Defence is working hard to tackle the issues in recruitment and retention to ensure there are sufficient levels of personnel in the Armed Forces. But, given current levels of operational deployment, workloads on Service men and women in some areas are heavy."
"Armed Forces personnel told us that the key reasons they were leaving early included the pressures on their family life. It is therefore vital that, in addition to the financial incentives offered, the Ministry of Defence maintains its focus on longer term measures."
“Modern procurement processes have reached a stage where they can bring colleges big savings – money that they can redeploy to direct services for learners. All colleges should seize the opportunities and support that are now readily available to help them implement the necessary improvements.”
“In paring back the work required to get the single payment scheme ready on time, the Agency underestimated the effort involved in processing claims, but also left itself without the management information it needed to take control of the situation. As a result, many farmers faced unacceptable delays before getting their money and the Agency made mistakes in paying out the correct amount. Unpicking what has gone wrong will take some time.
“Foremost among the Agency’s priorities now must be to determine if the administrative and computer systems for mapping land and processing claims are really up to the job. Until that happens, there is little prospect the problems will be remedied in time to deal with the 2006 claims.”
Meeting the EU targets for reducing landfill will be a tough challenge but there is much that can still be done if action is taken now. Reducing the amount of waste going to landfill requires both new treatment plants and a greater use of recycling, and no one should be in any doubt of the scale of the challenge involved. The weight of evidence shows that disposing of biodegradable waste in landfill sites is harmful to the environment, and if we are to substantially reduce our reliance on landfill then there really is no time to waste?
“The introduction of Bowman and CIP provides the first increment of a world class military communication, command and control system, which is delivering considerable benefits to the UK armed forces. The timescales set for the original programme in 2001 were overly ambitious given the technical challenges that emerged and the sheer scale of the conversion. To ensure delivery of the recast programme by 2007 the MOD and its contractor General Dynamics UK should continue to respond flexibly to inevitable change and to the remaining technical challenges."
“Social security fraud and error is a problem not only for the UK, but also across the world. While we always want to see further progress, the international picture tells us that DWP is at the forefront in identifying, measuring and reducing this kind of fraud and error. I am encouraged that it will be able to pass on some of the lessons it has learnt, and gain from the experiences of other countries.”
“The Department successfully completed the first major re-competition of a large public sector IT contract and transfer from one supplier to another without a loss in service to the taxpayer. In doing so they spent £75m on procurement and transition. The Department’s reason in this case to pay part of the bid costs and to contribute to the costs of transition was to encourage competition.
“My report highlights useful lessons from HM Revenue & Customs’ experience of ASPIRE for other government departments in re-competing major contracts and managing transitions.”
"Low cost home ownership assistance has helped thousands to take their first step onto the housing ladder. But, to ensure that as many other households as possible get the chance to do the same, the assistance needs to be more tightly managed and better focused on those it would benefit most.
"The Department for Communities and Local Government, the Housing Corporation and Registered Social Landlords must work together to ensure that the assistance is being effectively managed and monitored. This will be particularly important in securing value for money as the schemes expand to try to help an extra 100,000 households."
“Trusts have been successful at reducing expenditure on agency nursing staff but there is scope to obtain greater value for money by improving the procurement and management of all temporary nursing staff. It is very important that trusts further develop their understanding of their demand for all nursing staff as the ability to be able to manage the workforce effectively will play a major part in determining whether trusts remain in financial balance under Payment by Results.”
On tax credits
“The first full results of the new tax credit scheme since its introduction in April 2003 show that the level of claimant error and fraud was unacceptably high. I have therefore once again qualified my audit opinion on the Trust Statement. HMRC must now use this baseline figure to continue to target future reductions in error and fraud. HMRC closed the tax credits e-portal because of a serious attack by organised criminals submitting false claims using stolen identities. It must ensure that the new system fully complies with established government standards on security.”
On income tax (Pay As You Earn)
“HMRC has identified a number of problems with the way PAYE is working, especially for more complex cases, which have led to employees paying too much or too little tax. HMRC should closely monitor the effect of its planned improvements in ensuring that taxpayers pay the right amount of tax.”
On VAT missing trader fraud
“Missing trader fraud is a fraud perpetrated against the VAT system that has affected EU Member States. HMRC has sought to use all of the tools at its disposal to combat the fraud, but the confidence of the fraudsters over the last eighteen months has increased. The Department should continue to work with the European Commission and other Member States. Such concerted action is essential in successfully tackling this problem.
"Civil Society Organisations play an important role in many developing countries, helping people get their voice heard and securing basic necessities and rights. The Department for International Development has achieved positive impacts at a project level, but more robust assessment and monitoring needs to be in place to ensure cost effective, strategic and sustainable benefits for the poorest people around the world."
“Creating new organisations from mergers is fraught with difficulty and costs. The early evidence is that Ofcom’s creation has been successful.
“However, success in carrying out mergers is certainly not guaranteed. Given the large number of proposed mergers in the public sector, it is important that Government develops its expertise in managing mergers and its understanding of their costs and benefits.”
"The Child Support reforms were a final but, in the event, unsuccessful attempt to deliver the policy behind the creation of Child Support Agency in 1993. While they have benefited a number of the poorest parents and children, overall they have not achieved value for money and have not achieved what they were designed to do.
"These problems will have caused genuine hardship and distress to many parents and their children. From design to delivery and operation, the programme to reform the Agency has been beset with problems which the Department for Work and Pensions, the Agency and its IT supplier EDS, have struggled to deal with.
"The Agency’s new Operational Improvement Plan is a significant step towards addressing these difficulties and is showing signs of improving the Agency’s performance, but, given the scale of the problems, there will be no quick fix."
“Regulatory Impact Assessments are a vital tool for Government to ensure that it is not introducing unnecessary or excessive regulation. Although they have been in use for several years, many are still failing to perform their intended function properly. Departments must address the reasons why they have been so slow at making improvements to the process of assessing the impact of regulation.”
“Substantial progress has been made with the National Programme for IT. The Programme promises to revolutionise the way in which the NHS uses information to improve services and patient care. But significant challenges remain for the Department and NHS Connecting for Health.”
The crucial test for the right to roam is whether walkers can use it, and on this score it has been a success. Walkers are no longer restricted to existing footpaths across large areas of the countryside, with thousands of hectares now open to the public, in many cases for the first time. But although the scheme’s implementation has gone well, the Countryside Agency should have put effective risk and project management procedures in place earlier.
“The Ministry of Defence is at the forefront in some areas of contract best practice and, when viewed against the constraints under which they work, that is a real achievement. However, they must now meet the challenge of ensuring that all of their contract negotiation is consistently at this high level.”
This is the second report in a series of studies and follows ‘Driving the successful delivery of major defence projects: effective protect control is a key factor in successful projects’, which was published in May 2005.
'There is no single cause of the deficits at NHS bodies and no single answer either. There are some systemic issues that have contributed to the deterioration in financial performance, but there are also local failings. The Commission is exploring this in more depth in two forthcoming reports - the review of the NHS financial management and accounting regime requested by the Secretary of State and Learning the Lessons from Financial Failure. Both of these reports will make recommendations to help put the NHS back onto a firmer financial footing.
‘One thing is clearer than ever: financial balance can only be achieved with commitment from finance staff, managers, clinicians and Board members. However the requirement for high quality, timely accounts must not be overlooked. There have been acknowledged weaknesses in the accounts of the NHS bodies and in 2004-05 there was evidence of inappropriate adjustments or omissions in more than a fifth of the accounts submitted for audit by NHS bodies. We have worked with NHS bodies, the Department of Health and NAO to address the weaknesses and hope to see an improvement in the quality of the 2005-06 accounts.’
Sir John Bourn, head of the NAO, said:
'Many NHS bodies are managing their finances well, but it is worrying that a significant number are in deficit. All parts of the NHS and staff throughout the organisation must act together and take responsibility for improving financial management.
'It is especially vital that financial control is not weakened as NHS bodies prepare for the impact of mergers and restructuring, as well as implementing Payment by Results and other national initiatives. It is also imperative that NHS bodies improve the quality of information underpinning both management and annual accounts. As well as supporting NHS Boards in informed decision-making, this will also allow local and national NHS accounts to be prepared, audited and published sooner.'
"I find it encouraging that HM Revenue and Customs is well positioned to manage the current risks to VAT from electronic commerce. With internet sales set to mushroom in the next few years, the Department faces a challenge to ensure it stays ahead of the game. Some businesses are inventive at side-stepping VAT, and the Department must be equally innovative in guaranteeing the Exchequer gets the revenue it is due."
“The Department for Constitutional Affairs has taken positive steps on fines collection since we last reported on this subject in 2002 but our study revealed that some offenders cannot pay their fines, and many others are determined not to pay until forced to do so. If justice is to be done, it is essential that those who have been given a financial penalty by the courts should pay up. To this end, fines must be set at a level appropriate to the offender’s ability to pay, and effective action should be taken to enforce them. Evidence from some areas suggests that a more robust approach to collection from the start can change the culture of non-payment among offenders.”
“Government needs a better appreciation of its impact on small businesses, and simpler performance management arrangements, if it is to achieve its aim – to make the UK the best place in the world to start and grow a business.”
“A hospital development of this scale and ambition was always going to be a challenge but the original business case was inadequate, the lack of a single sponsor was a fatal flaw and the final scheme was not deliverable. The cancellation of the Paddington scheme at a cost of £15 million has left patients, staff and visitors to the hospitals with outdated facilities.
“The Department of Health should draw on my report’s conclusions and recommendations when deciding how best to initiate and manage its £7 billion to 9 billion capital investment programme in order to provide value for money to taxpayers, patients and staff.”
"The Department for Trade and Industry handled the termination of the contract well. But different handling of the project by all parties at the early stages might well have avoided the problems which led to the termination."
“The Department of Health is now on track towards providing high-quality out-of-hours services. I am glad to see signs that Primary Care Trusts are getting better at managing their providers.
“However, it is disappointing that there were so many problems in starting the new arrangements and I am concerned that so few providers are meeting their targets for the time it takes respond to patients. And the continuing confusion over whether out-of-hours is supposed to be an urgent or unscheduled care service should be dispelled without delay.”
‘The residents and workers of Dunstable were led to expect reduced congestion and improved air quality, and so were naturally disappointed when these did not materialize. I encourage the Highways Agency to learn from this and do more to keep local communities informed about schemes, their progress and their likely effects.’
"Managing sickness absence more effectively will lead to better value for money in the Probation Service. Reducing current sickness absence rates of 12.3 days per person to the Service’s target of 9 days would save £11 million, equivalent to 66,420 working days or some 300 full time employees. Tackling the problem will require investment in better information, robust and proactive management, and consistent application locally of policies that have been agreed nationally, particularly to tackle stress and improve work/life balance. "
"This report gives an update on how much money the public sector has recouped from PFI debt refinancings which I am pleased to say resulted from work carried out by the NAO and the Public Accounts Committee. The public sector is also being more cautious about entering into refinancing deals after the NAO highlighted the risks that can attach to these transactions. We will continue to monitor future developments in the PFI debt and equity markets including the trends in financing costs as these are an important component of all PFI deals. More information on PFI investors’ costs and benefits will assist an understanding of how the market is functioning"
"I am pleased to see an increasing recognition of the key role that financial management has to play in the efficient use of resources and the delivery of efficiency programmes. The continuing steps being taken by the Treasury and departments to improve the professionalism of the finance function are therefore very welcome.
"A number of departments are still finding it difficult, however, to submit good quality financial accounts in time for them to be audited and laid before Parliament before its Summer Recess. It is essential for all departments to recognise the immense benefits to themselves of producing robust, accurate and up to date financial information throughout the financial year and not leaving it to the end of the year. This is essential if they are to improve their resource planning and decision making."
“The men and women who make up the Reserves have provided our nation with a vital service over the last decade. The Ministry of Defence has successfully created a culture where Volunteer Reservists expect and want to serve on military operations. To sustain and make the most of Reserve Forces’ contribution, the Department should build further on the momentum in its ongoing work to improve the training and support of Reservists.”
“While many public bodies have made progress in achieving better value for money from their catering services, there is still much to do to improve performance. The principal lesson is that gains in efficiency need not be at the expense of, indeed can go along with, improvements to the quality of food and sustainability.”
“I am pleased to see the Court was able to issue a positive Statement of Assurance on a larger percentage of EU spending than it had done at any time in the previous decade and that it reported that the Commission had made progress in a number of key areas of financial management, such as the development of its internal control framework.
“Last year, I said that the United Kingdom’s Presidency of the European Union in the latter half of 2005 presented the United Kingdom authorities with an opportunity to push for improvements in financial management. I am pleased to see therefore that the United Kingdom Presidency made a substantial contribution to initiatives in this area. The challenge is to keep up the momentum during the Austrian and Finnish Presidencies in 2006.”
"Although much work has already been done to reduce costs, there is much still to do if public bodies are to be smarter customers, both of Royal Mail and of the new entrants in the liberalised market. There is scope for significant savings by taking some relatively straight-forward measures, and there is no reason why the public sector cannot achieve the £31 million annual savings identified in the report, representing five per cent of their total mail costs, and aspire to cost levels closer to those enjoyed by the best of the private sector."
"I welcome the fact that Government Departments have managed in many cases to establish robust data systems where measurement presented considerable difficulties. However, progress across the board in developing sound systems has been variable and Departments must overcome the difficulties and develop performance management systems that allow the full benefits of PSA targets to be realised."
“The problem of regulating a monopoly such as Royal Mail is that it tends to involve advocacy, litigation and dispute. That is why competition is in the long run a less costly and burdensome way of protecting consumers. This report encourages Postcomm to minimise the costs and maximise the benefits in the short term while withdrawing from detailed regulation in the medium term. Later this week I will report on how the public sector can make substantial savings by more efficient management and purchasing of postal services.”
"The Department of Trade and Industry intervened when British Energy could no longer meet its debts. As a result the taxpayer is responsible for underwriting a large and uncertain liability. The scale of the net liability to be borne by the public purse will depend crucially on British Energy’s performance in future years. It is therefore vital that the Department keeps close scrutiny to ensure the taxpayer’s position is safeguarded"
“More active management of office accommodation will bring savings to the Culture, Media and Sports sector. Organisations need to devote more attention to the way they use space and to the costs of their offices if they are to improve the value for money of their accommodation. Some organisations have already made improvements, but there is scope for more to be done.”
"MG Rover held an important position in the local economy and local communities of the West Midlands. It was therefore particularly important for the Department, and other public bodies, to be able to respond effectively when its difficulties became clear. This was no easy task. The Department did well to identity a series of scenarios that it might face, working up plans for how it and other public bodies would respond if the Company were to close. The Department’s decision making could, however, have been easier if it had been founded on earlier and more comprehensive contingency planning for other scenarios that could well take place, and in this case did.
"When the Company collapsed in April 2005, the various agencies at local level responded well to meet the immediate large increase in demand for their services. The prompt processing and payment of statutory redundancy pay and social security benefits helped many former employees and their families at a particularly stressful time."
“Providing local public services, which offer value for money and are tailored to the needs of different communities, is an immensely complex task. It requires central and local government to work closely together and to make the best use of a wide range of other agencies. Our report sets out how better working between Whitehall, which sets the key targets, and the many organisations responsible for their delivery, can be fostered. We particularly emphasise the importance of clarity of purpose and well-defined responsibilities.”
"Prison catering has improved since we last examined it in 1997 and the Prison Service is more responsive to prisoner needs. The challenge now is for the Service to provide prisoners with food and opportunities to exercise which meet the government’s recommendations on healthy eating and exercise, whilst keeping costs firmly under control."
"The Department has identified a number of areas where it can achieve better combat identification performance. It has made progress by improving data collection, introducing training courses, developing tactics, training and procedures and bringing in new equipment. However, the Department could and is doing more. When it finishes the current review of combat identification policy, it should develop a detailed strategy to implement the revised policy.”
“Good quality green space is a vital element of a civilized urban environment. It is welcome, therefore, that initiatives by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister are in many parts of the country contributing to a reverse of the decline in the quality of urban green space. This improving trend must be sustained and extended to those urban communities who still have to put up with poor quality green space.
“The provision of urban green space is still at risk of being treated as a Cinderella service at the local level. The case for expenditure needs to be made more effectively and resources targeted where they will have most effect in improving the environment of green spaces.”
"The speed of DFID’s response after the tsunami was impressive and demonstrates the importance of planning for disasters. The scaling back of expenditure against the £75 million of immediate humanitarian assistance promised was justified, given the generosity of other governments and people from around the world. But it remains important to keep control over the £50 million paid in grants to other organisations and to know how it is spent.”
"Childhood obesity is a serious health problem that can follow people much later into life. It is a causal factor in a number of chronic diseases and conditions including high blood pressure, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. If we are serious about tackling childhood obesity then all government agencies and organisations must work together more effectively. Those of us involved in inspection and assessment must ensure that this partnership working really takes place nationally and locally."
Audit Commission Chief Executive, Steve Bundred, said:
"The Government is facing a significant challenge on a serious social problem, but it is tackling it head on. To succeed, children must be engaged in the home, at school and when being treated by the NHS. It is no surprise that it is very complicated to address because the various government agencies involved are trying to bring about changes to the lifestyles of children and families. The recommendations in this report must be embraced urgently to give the Government the best chance of achieving its target."
Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office, said:
"Central Government must set a clear direction if we are to tackle obesity in children. Given that the target was established in 2004, the three Government Departments could have been quicker in co-ordinating their own actions and in making sure that those on the frontline were fully informed and supported in their efforts. There is now a need for the three Departments to work closely together to provide the leadership and direction that the whole delivery chain requires."
"There are many worthwhile activities going on within the efficiency programme and I am pleased that some good progress is clearly being made. However the time is now right for government to move on from isolated, one-off efficiency initiatives, covering selected activities, towards a much more all-embracing approach to achieving efficiency. To sum up, efficiency is not an 'add on', a separate programme from 'core business'. Efficiency is the way 'core business' has to be delivered and improvements in the quality of public services secured."
“I welcome the progress made by the Department for Work and Pensions in establishing contact centres across the organisation. However, if this major transformation in the way the DWP serves many of its customers is to be successful, the centres must be managed more flexibly and the service provided should be seamless and easy to use.”
“The Crown Prosecution Service is making efforts to improve its performance in magistrates’ courts but needs to do more to modernise the way in which it prepares and brings cases to court. My recommendations will reduce the waste and delay caused by ineffective hearings and trials.”
"At a time when consumers are facing rising gas prices, I am encouraged to see that the changes to the gas industry arising from the sale of the networks have potential benefits for consumers. Ofgem has done well so far. I will be looking to Ofgem to maintain its commitment to ensuring that the potential benefits are realised."
“I have qualified the accounts of NHS Direct because of a lack of evidence that correct payments have been made to staff.
“NHS Direct has taken steps in year to centralize its accounting and payroll systems. It is vital that it continues to strengthen internal controls and ensures that proper accounting records are maintained in the future.”
"I am pleased that I am able to give an unqualified opinion on the National Insurance Fund Account following the advances made by DWP and HMRC in improving their systems"
"Nevertheless, HM Revenue and Customs and the Department for Work and Pensions need to correct errors in Incapacity Benefit records on the two Departments’ systems. There may be difficult decisions to be taken in undertaking what could be a large and complex task which comes on top of routine processing"
"Poor quality NI contributions information from some employers continues to cause difficulties for HM Revenue and Customs and potentially for the individuals seeking benefits. The hoped for effects of initiatives to improve employers’ data quality cannot yet be demonstrated because of problems with some IT systems in the summer of 2005”
"Electronic monitoring represents value for money, providing a cost-effective alternative to custody for offenders who do not pose a risk to the public. However, to ensure that a curfew is effective, it is essential that the contractors and criminal justice agencies work together to ensure that offenders are always tagged promptly and that any breaches of their curfew are dealt with quickly.”
“It is disappointing that the Home Office had not maintained proper financial books and records for the financial year ending 31 March 2005 and has been unable to deliver its accounts for auditing by the statutory deadline.
“The Home Office has recognised the need to strengthen its financial control framework, and to improve its financial statements preparation processes to enable it to meets its accountability obligations to Parliament, and has taken or has in hand actions for this purpose. Senior management leadership and commitment will be vital to the Department’s success in producing accounts for 2005-06 to meet the Treasury’s faster closing targets and statutory requirements”.
"Wider Markets projects should be seen as part and parcel of good asset management in the public sector. They offer the prospect of better public services at a lower overall cost. Many government departments have not done enough to look for such opportunities and so cannot be sure that they are fulfilling their responsibilities to provide value for money to the taxpayer.”
“It is vital that people can rely on the accuracy of the leaflets the government produces to make informed choices about their lives. And it is vital that they can get hold of these leaflets and easily understand them when they do. The Department for Work and Pensions has made progress in these respects but needs to manage better the leaflets it produces to ensure those needing information can access it when they need to.”