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11 October 2011 | Adam Leach
The Efficiency and Reform Group (ERG) has made a “good start” delivering savings across central government but
greater clarity over its accountability is needed.
In a report, published today, the Committee of Public Accounts
(PAC) welcomed the formation of the ERG within the Cabinet Office and the level
of transparency to its £3.75 billion savings. However, the committee called for
more clarity over its long-term aims and what it is accountable for.
The PAC report said the ERG’s ability to intervene in managing and
negotiating contracts for major government projects meant the responsibilities
of departments was “less clear-cut”. The committee called for the Cabinet
Office to confirm that the head of the ERG is accountable to Parliament and
clarify what the ERG is responsible for and what departments are in charge of.
PAC chairwoman Margaret Hodge, said: “We welcome
the level of detail in the Group’s reported savings. This degree of
transparency is a big improvement on the very poor standard of reporting by
departments. Less clear are the respective responsibilities of the Group and
individual departments for achieving value for money. The Group can now
intervene in the management of major projects, but departments must remain
accountable for their own projects and not duck responsibility.”
Speaking at the CIPS Conference 2011, John Collington, head of procurement at the ERG, said he and his peers were ready and willing to be held
to account. “We’ve raised the profile of the profession within government,
we’ve asked for additional responsibility and we’ve got it – and now we’ll be
held to account,” he said.
The report asked the ERG to improve the project management ability
of the Civil Service. It called upon it to “set a clear expectation that
departments’ arrangements for recruitment, performance assessment, promotion
and training must encourage civil servants to develop their implementation
Responding to the report, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said: “In just 10 months, this government achieved savings of £3.75 billion through smarter, more efficient ways of working. That is no small feat – it’s equivalent to twice the budget of the Foreign Office, or to funding 200,000 nurses. We are pleased that the PAC has recognised and welcomed our transparent approach. But these savings are just the beginning of the reform agenda - we are now focused on making more sustainable savings, through cutting bureaucracy in the civil service and opening up public services.”