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NAO flags up nine issues for government efficiencies


Mark Say Managing Editor


The National Audit Office (NAO) has identified nine issues for efforts to achieve efficiencies in government in a new report.

It has also highlighted the importance of departments ensuring they have the right capabilities to deliver complex plans such as digital programmes.

The Efficiency in Government report, planned as first in a series on efficiency in government, draws out what the NAO has learned from reporting on the successes and failures of previous attempts to increase efficiency.

It highlights nine issues that it says have to be considered. Four are in identifying efficiency gains: considering potential gains that can be achieved over the long term; recognised the relationship between short term efficiencies and resilience in dealing with the unexpected; understanding services and what they value; and being aware of the links between different parts of government and how attempted efficiencies for one might increase costs for another.

Another four are part of planning to achieve efficiency gains: being aware of optimism bias and learning from past experience; identifying risks and planning how to manage them; ensuring there is sufficient capability to achieve the efficiency gains; and measuring progress to learn lessons for the future.

The ninth issue to focus on continuous improvement to embed efficiency.

Capabilities problem

The NAO also points to an earlier report, Capability of the Civil Service, that highlighted examples of how capability shortfalls have led to problems, and to its work on the Digital Services at the Border programme, which showed how the Home Office underestimated the technology requirements of a change programme.

It makes the point that departments need to ensure they have the right capabilities in place for such initiatives, extending to all levels including senior management.

Gareth Davies

Commenting on the report overall, head of the NAO Gareth Davies (pictured) said: "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."

Image from NAO

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