It’s mostly common sense, Sir Amyas Morse, comptroller and auditor general at the public spending watchdog the National Audit Office, told delegates at the Public Sector Show last month, and offered these tips:
1. Cheapest is not always best value. It’s about hitting the target and getting the job done effectively and reliably. If a contract doesn’t achieve the right results or creates problems down the line, then it’s not good value.
2. Limit big projects in the pipeline. If you let too many people get their projects under the door, they grow up to look a bit thin. Plan budget capacity and resources for the number and scope of projects.
3. Check your in-house skills. Your home team need to know enough to challenge the contractors and hold them to account. If you don’t have them and can’t hire them quickly, reduce the ambition of the project until it fits your skillset.
4. Push back on unrealistic savings targets from the onset as they can derail a project. A recent HMRC programme to overhaul call centres cut back too early and had to rehire staff at a cost. Agreeing over-optimistic cost savings builds failure into a project that should be at least partially successful.
5. Ask yourself: ‘Should we be doing this and what is the risk?’ At the end it’s the civil servant that has to stand up and say that.