A National Audit Office report on UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) has found that, three years into its five-year strategy to deliver improved support to UK exporters, it is close to meeting most of its performance targets. UKTI lacks, however, sufficiently robust measures of the costs of delivering its individual services. Without such information it is hard to show that value for money is being optimised.
UKTI has put in place extensive arrangements to obtain regular and systematic feedback on the quality of its services. Some 52 per cent of businesses receiving support reported that their performance improved as a result of receiving support, exceeding its 50 per cent target.
UKTI asks its users to estimate the financial benefit arising as a result of its support. In the 12 months to June 2008, this figure was £229,000, on average, per business. UKTI uses this estimate to calculate its reported benefit to cost ratio of 15:1. But the underlying survey data shows that 29 per cent of users either did not know, or declined to provide an estimate, 30 per cent forecast some financial benefit and 40 per cent forecast no financial benefit. The survey focuses on forecast impact rather than actual financial impact which may, in practice, be achieved some years later.
UKTI has sought to improve its overall efficiency by, for example, shifting resources to better performing markets and services. In the year to March 2008 it reported that expenditure on trade support fell by 4.5 per cent while the number of businesses supported rose by 35 per cent. Some of this increase may be attributable to previous under-recording.
UKTI does not have a full picture of the costs of providing the individual services. It is therefore not in a position to gauge reliably the efficiency of its activities, the contribution of different parts of the organisation to these services, nor the relative costs and benefits of the different services it provides. In 2008 UKTI established a model for cost assessment, but this is not yet sophisticated enough to demonstrate whether value for money is being optimised.