Audit office doubts government’s ability to deliver cuts

A report by the spending watchdog has cast doubt on government claims to have saved almost £5bn through efficiency programmes.

As part of the Gershon efficiency report, the government wants Whitehall departments to save £21.5bn by 2008, through redundancies and changes to their working practices.

The National Audit Office (NAO) said some good progress had been made, but that it had concerns over how some of the savings were being calculated.

The government said its programme was “firmly on track” but admitted that measuring efficiency correctly was “a challenge”.

The Gershon Report said spending could be cut by improving procurement practices and use of modern technology, cutting bureaucracy and moving staff away from back-office functions.

In particular, the NAO was concerned that 68 out of the 300 projects that are due to deliver the savings did not have baseline figures, making it hard to judge how much was being saved.

It was also concerned that 15% of the overall savings were meant to be delivered by IT projects, despite the government’s less-than-perfect record for delivering IT projects on time and within budget.

The NAO also points out that most projects are not taking account of the cost of the efficiency plans themselves when calculating the savings.

A new CBI survey suggests the majority of UK firms think the government will miss its efficiency target.

More than half of the CBI’s 300 respondents were ‘not at all confident’ and 34% ‘not very confident’ that the target would be reached.

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