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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: Geographic information strategy

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has delivered some value from the £39.3 million spent on its geographic information strategy and activities, the National Audit Office has reported today. However, the Department has not tracked the full cost of geographic information and systems to it or its arm’s length bodies, or systematically measured benefits. The Department has been able to identify savings of only approximately £9 million. The figures for costs and benefits are both likely to be underestimates. This lack of financial information means that the NAO cannot determine that value for money has been achieved.

Accurate and often real time geographic information is a vital resource used by the Department and its arm’s length bodies for a wide range of activities including policy making, decision making, day-to-day operations and keeping the public informed. The Department has recognised this and has had a geographical information strategy in place since 2002. However, neither the original strategy, nor the updated 2009 version, set business targets for cost reduction or quantified the benefits that could be achieved by collaboration or by sharing geographic information and systems.

The aim of the strategy is to share geographic information between the Department and its arm’s length bodies, as well as make best use of geographic information systems. It has focused on technology provision, building and operating a range of common geographic information services and negotiating licenses on behalf of arm’s length bodies that are willing to participate. The Department has had some success in delivering these services, but has not quantified the costs and benefits of geographic information and systems in all its arm’s length bodies. Although the Department has put in place appropriate technical governance, strategic governance arrangements could be strengthened.

The Department and its arm’s length bodies have a good level of specialist skills, but these skills could be better integrated into the business so that the benefits of geographic information are fully realised across the Department.

"Given the importance of geographic information to the activities of Defra, it is surprising how little it knows about whether its strategy is achieving value for money. "The Department’s geographic information systems have developed significantly, but they should serve the business needs of the Department much more coherently if good public value is to be demonstrated."

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office

Notes for Editors

  • Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website, which is at Hard copies can be obtained from The Stationery Office on 0845 702 3474.
  • The Comptroller and Auditor General, Amyas Morse, is the head of the National Audit Office which employs some 880 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.

PN: 40/11