As part of measures to manage spending following the COVID-19 pandemic, government plans to increase its efficiency. Today’s National Audit Office (NAO) report identifies key issues government will need to consider when attempting to achieve efficiency gains.

COVID-19 has resulted in unprecedented levels of government spending, and borrowing is at its highest level since World War Two. As at May 2021, government expects to spend £372 billion on measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.1

The government is now beginning to plan for the post-pandemic recovery, with this autumn’s Spending Review providing an opportunity to set a medium-term approach for spending across government. An element of government’s approach is to increase efficiency – trying to achieve the same or better outcomes with fewer resources.

Today’s report draws out what the NAO has learnt from reporting on the successes and failures of previous government attempts to increase efficiency. It identifies nine issues that government will need to address if it is to make efficiency gains that will endure.2

This will be the first in a series of NAO reports about efficiency in government, and we will use the issues raised here when assessing the success of government efficiency measures. The NAO intends this report to inform government’s activities over the coming months, beginning with the Spending Review.

“Given the huge impact of COVID-19 on the public finances, it is inevitable that government is now focusing on efficiency. As it prepares for the Spending Review, it will be important for government to apply the learning set out in this report drawn from its previous successes and failures in increasing efficiency.”

Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO

Notes for editors

  1. The NAO’s COVID-19 cost tracker provides estimates of the cost of measures announced in response to the pandemic and how much the government has spent on these measures so far.
  2. The nine issues that government will need to address if it is to identify, plan for and embed efficiencies are set out on page 5 of the report.
  3. Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website. Hard copies can be obtained by using the relevant links on our website

About the NAO

The National Audit Office (NAO) scrutinises public spending for Parliament and is independent of government and the civil service. It helps Parliament hold government to account and it uses its insights to help people who manage and govern public bodies improve public services.

The Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG), Gareth Davies, is an Officer of the House of Commons and leads the NAO. The NAO audits the financial accounts of departments and other public bodies. It also examines and reports on the value for money of how public money has been spent.

In 2020, the NAO’s work led to a positive financial impact through reduced costs, improved service delivery, or other benefits to citizens, of £926 million.