Impact Assessments, used to assess the need for and the likely impact of proposed government policy interventions, do not yet consistently provide a sound basis for assessing the relative merits of different policy proposals. Further improvement in the quality and use of Impact Assessments is needed in order to achieve value for money.
According to a report published today by the National Audit Office, some Impact Assessments are of a high standard, but wide variation remains between the best and worst.
Eighteen per cent of the NAO’s sample were assessed as ‘red’ because they may not provide sufficient evidence to convince the reader that the right conclusion has been reached. Over half had weaknesses with only 28 per cent fully meeting reasonable quality standards.
The number of policy options considered has improved, but is still too limited, with almost half of the assessments considering only one option, or one option plus a “do nothing” option. In addition, Impact Assessments for interventions originating from European Union decisions are often produced only after a decision has been made at European Union level.
The use of quantification in analysis for Impact Assessments is improving, with 86 per cent of those reviewed by the NAO containing some quantification of the costs of their preferred option and 60 per cent containing some quantification of benefits. However, 10 per cent of the assessments had not quantified either the costs or the benefits.
Departments have increased the resources that they allocate to preparing Impact Assessments and internal scrutiny has improved. Some Impact Assessments have altered the course of some policy development, yet only half of policy staff felt that they were useful in the policy process.