Public spend data 'dodgy'

21 June 2009

22 June 2009 | Martha McKenzie-Minifie

Public sector spend data has "major problems" and baselines used to calculate the additional £5 billion of savings in the Operational Efficiency Programme (OEP) were "dodgy at best", a central government commercial director says.

David Thomas, from HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), made the remarks in his address on business information at the Procurement Solutions Live event in London this month.

He said the inconsistent data had the potential to cause problems with the targets set in the OEP, a year-long review lead by Invensys chairman Martin Jay and released ahead of April's Budget.

Based on the interim findings of the five OEP advisers, the government increased the efficiency target of the current spending review from £30 billion to £35 billion by 2010-11.

"The only way you can do a review like that is to look at what you spend your money on - where you are spending it," Thomas said. "They were building from a baseline that was dodgy at best."

To reinforce his point he showed slides during the presentation with comments from the OGC Procurement Capability Reviews about departments' data shortcomings.

HMRC, under Thomas, is widely acknowledged to have turned around its spend data since 2006 to become one of the leading central government departments in the area.

OGC chief executive Nigel Smith told SM "data has got to be improved". He said a significant improvement programme was under way and added: "Over the past two years, we've come a mile from where we were." He said the OEP targets were "quite aggressive" but "realistic" and "not down to the last penny or last pound".

"The fact that there might be some areas where data is having to be estimated rather than known is not an issue," he said.

Other commercial directors said quality of the public sector spend data was variable but improving.David Smith, commercial director at Department for Work and Pensions, said "when [public sector spend data is] good, it's very good" but some in areas it was "less well developed".

"To fulfil the demands of the OEP and the collaboration agenda that OGC are pursuing, you would want a consistent and accurate level of data across the whole of the public sector - and I think that doesn't exist."


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