MPs probe Oughton over efficiency savings plan

29 March 2006
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30 March 2006 | Anusha Bradley

The government's efficiency savings claims came in for criticism during a rigorous investigation by a group of MPs this month.

John Oughton, chief executive of the Office of Government Commerce, appeared before the Public Accounts Committee over the National Audit Office's (NAO) critical report in February, Progress in Improving Government Efficiency.

According to a transcript of the meeting, the group of MPs spent time trying to assess the degree of savings that would be cashable and claimed 75 per cent of future efficiencies would need to be so if the OGC was to hit its own overall target. Oughton agreed with this assessment.

Proceedings became lively when Oughton refused to reveal which departments were the worst performers. He said he only reported to prime minister Tony Blair and the chancellor.

During this exchange, Oughton was warned he may be "in danger of being in contempt of this committee". The parties agreed he would contact ministers before responding to the committee in writing.

Greg Clark MP, a PAC member, claimed the £2 billion efficiency savings figure announced in last year's budget was reached by "ringing round departments and asking what savings they could offer up in time to be mentioned, with no checks at all".

Oughton said "greater confidence" could be placed in current figures because "more work had been done on audit trails and establishing baselines" in the past year. He said he was confident the £21.5 billion efficiency savings identified by Sir Peter Gershon's review would be met.

In its report, the NAO said poor measurement methods and a lack of baseline data meant the £4.7 billion efficiency savings HM Treasury had claimed so far could not be seen as more than "provisional".

The value of claimed efficiency savings rose again last week when Gordon Brown, chancellor of the exchequer, said in his budget speech: "Published today are the figures for the first £6.4 billion of Gershon savings, including a reduction in civil service posts of 40,000."


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