Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office, reported today that the Invest to Save (ISB) programme has fostered better working together by organisations, departments, agencies and local authorities. But there is less evidence of what the programme has achieved in terms of tangible outputs.
In its study of the Invest to Save Budget, the NAO found that that just over a third of the 260 projects are intended to achieve efficiency gains and two-thirds improvements in service delivery. The expected benefits to costs on ISB projects are of the order of two to one.
Twenty-eight per cent (£88 million) of the £310 million spent so far has been allocated to projects to deliver improvements in health, education, transport and tackling crime. A further twenty-eight percent has been allocated to delivering local improvements in public service delivery mainly through better use of IT.
Many projects are at the early stages of implementation. Only 40 (15 per cent) of the 260 projects supported in the first three rounds of the ISB programme were completed by July 2002. It is therefore not yet possible to assess fully what the ISB programme has achieved.
The Department for Work and Pensions’ “ONE” project was well evaluated and lessons from the project used in the development of Jobcentre Plus. This is a notable exception. Less thought appears to have been given as to how the key lessons from other projects should be disseminated. As a result, key lessons about projects and the way innovative activities have been managed may have been lost. Also lessons about the management of the programme in earlier rounds, such as the need for all those involved with a project to have the same agreed objectives, have not yet been fully taken on board by departments. This raises the risk of duplication of effort and additional costs.
The report recommends that departments should focus more on identifying the barriers to improved service delivery and ensure that the projects they propose for ISB support are better targeted to identify how these barriers can be tackled in new and innovative ways. Also they should provide more support for managers responsible for innovative projects, circulate the results of ISB projects more systematically and give consideration to the sustainability of benefits and innovation once ISB funding ceases.