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Getting value for money from procurement – how auditors can help

A set of six questions for departments to consider to promote value for money in their expenditure on professional services, taken from from pages 15-16 of the NAO Value for Money report, “Purchasing Professional Services” (HC 400 2000-2001) published in April 2001.

1 Apr 2001

Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions: The Channel Tunnel Rail Link

“It is apparent that, faced with a range of complex issues, the Department handled negotiations with LCR in a competent manner. The financing of the restructured project is fundamentally different to that envisaged in 1996, and so is the distribution of risks between the various parties now involved. There are a number of important lessons here for future PPPs, along with some specific points for the Department”.

28 Mar 2001

Ship Surveys and Inspections

“The Maritime and Coastguard Agency has a vital job to do in ensuring the high safety standards of UK-registered vessels and an often difficult job in seeking to raise the standards of foreign vessels visiting the UK. My report shows that the Agency generally carries out its role very well, but that there are steps it could take to make its surveys and inspections of vessels more effective.”

23 Mar 2001

Measuring the Performance of Government Departments

“Good performance management can help Departments improve their effectiveness and promote accountability to public and Parliament. This report provides a series of case studies and key questions that Departments need to consider in specifying performance measures which support their objectives, in implementing performance measurement in a way which improves results and in collecting the data they need to manage and report on their performance.”

22 Mar 2001

Ministry of Defence: Maximising the Benefits of Defence Equipment Co-Operation

“Defence equipment acquisition is an inherently complex and often expensive task. Co-operation adds another layer of complexity, but it offers economic, military, industrial and political benefits. In the past not all of these benefits have been secured. Co-operation is likely to become more important in the future and I welcome the initiatives being taken by MoD and its partners to improve the planning and execution of co-operation as well as helping in the restructuring and efficient operation of the defence industry. It is important that MoD involves other interested government departments and industry from the outset in deciding whether to co-operate and that it assesses whether the expected benefits are being achieved.”

1. The two main agreements are:

2. OCCAR is the Organisation Conjointe de Cooperation en matière d’Armement. It is a four nation (Germany, France, Italy, UK) armaments co-operation agency.

3. Capability Management is based on defining the outputs which users require in a broadly framed Statement of Need with the System Requirement (what the system must do to meet user needs) only specified when the main investment decision is taken. It thus provides a framework to align partners aspirations in given areas of military capability and discuss the possibility of cost, schedule and capability trade-offs to overcome differing timescale and funding commitments.

16 Mar 2001

Inland Flood Defence

A National Audit Office report today highlights research by MAFF that up to two million homes and buildings in England are in areas at risk of flooding. The key points in the report to Parliament by NAO head Sir John Bourn are that: while flood defences can reduce the risk or extent of damage, they … Read more

15 Mar 2001

The Medical Assessment of Incapacity and Disability Benefits

“This has been an innovative project for the Department of Social Security, involving the outsourcing of a service which is close to the department’s core business. The Benefits Agency medical service was underachieving and operated within tight resource constraints. Outsourcing has cut costs and speeded up the processing of the work, but the Department, with SEMA Group, must concentrate on improving the quality of assessments and customer service.

“Bottlenecks and delays throughout the system for paying these benefits also need to be addressed. The aim should be to ensure that disability benefits are speedily paid to those entitled to them, as well as reducing losses to the public purse from payments to those who are no longer eligible for benefit.”

9 Mar 2001

Improving Student Performance – How English Further Education Colleges Can Improve Student Retention and Achievement 

“Further education colleges, with the support of the Funding Council and the Department, have done well over the past five years to increase the proportion of students who achieve their qualifications. In particular we were pleased to see that the number of colleges with overall achievement rates below 50 per cent has reduced dramatically.

“Overall success rates remain disappointing, however, and the gap between the best and worst performing colleges is still too wide. Poorer performing colleges need to adopt the good practices of the best if they are to help the Government meet the National Learning Targets2.”

The further education sector provides a wide range of education and training opportunities to people from school leaving-age upwards. There are some 400 further education colleges in England, enabling 3.8 million students to study for some 17,000 different qualifications from about 480 awarding bodies, at a cost to the public purse of some £3 billion.

The Department for Education and Employment is responsible for determining the overall policy for further education and the Further Education Funding Council is responsible for implementing it. From April 2001 a new Learning and Skills Council will replace the Further Education Funding Council and Training and Enterprise Councils. (Training and Enterprise Councils are private sector companies which manage local training and enterprise activities under a performance-based contract with the Secretary of State for Employment).

1 Success rates are the number of qualification aims achieved as a proportion of those started, even though students may subsequently have dropped them. Achievement rates do not take account of qualifications started but not completed.

The National Learning Targets represent the Government’s aim of making a substantial improvement in participation and achievement in education and training at every level

‘ National Vocational Qualifications

” General National Vocational Qualifications

The Comptroller and Auditor General, Sir John Bourn, is the head of the National Audit Office employing some 750 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.

2 Mar 2001