Central government spend on travel up 11 per cent with 'little oversight', says NAO

Will Green is news editor of Supply Management
11 March 2015

Central government expenditure on business travel has increased by at least 11 per cent since 2009/10 with departments not managing demand “sufficiently actively”, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).

In a report the NAO said “the centre of government has little oversight of official travel, leaving that role to departments” and it “does not monitor overall demand for travel”.

The report said the government identified £546 million of travel spend in 2013/14 through contracts and procurement cards, but this did not include spend claimed as expenses.

“Although it has put systems in place to capture travel data, government has incomplete knowledge of what it spends on travel,” said the report.

The report said in 2013/14 £75.7 million was spent on 1.2 million rail fares, of which 41 per cent were anytime flexible tickets, the most expensive standard-class tickets available.

The NAO said 13,654 first-class rail tickets were booked despite a treasury announcement in 2010 that they “should be avoided by all public servants wherever possible”. The report said five departments allow first-class travel, four do not mention it and eight do not allow it.

Some 304,000 flights costing £105.4 million were booked, of which 94 per cent were economy class. The Foreign & Commonwealth Office used business class most often (a quarter of its international flights), while of 259 first-class flights, 207 were by the Ministry of Defence. The most common destinations across all departments were the US and Germany.

Hotel stays worth £57.6 million were booked in 2013/14, with an average cost of £66 per night. However, average costs varied by department for the same location, for example between £82 and £127 for London hotels.

The NAO found that 4 per cent of transactions were not compliant with travel policies.

“Departments are not managing demand for government travel sufficiently actively,” said the NAO.

The Cabinet Office said £138.5 million was saved on travel spend in 2013/14 by “centralising procurement and leveraging our buying power to negotiate cheaper pricing”.

“As the report notes, data collection across government has improved, which could explain the increase in overall reported spend,” said a spokesman. “A nationwide 440,000-person organisation with international reach inevitably has travel costs but we recognise there's more to do to drive them down.”

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