09 February 2007 | Paul Snell
Nearly three-quarters of the government's claimed £13.3 billion of efficiency savings "carry a significant risk of inaccuracy", according to Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office (NAO).
An NAO report published this week, The Efficiency Programme: a second review of progress, said £3.1 billion of claimed efficiency gains might be "substantially incorrect" and £6.7 billion "carry some measurement issues and uncertainties".
It claimed that, although there had been progress in measurements since its critical report in February 2006 (News, 2 March 2006), there were still "long-standing weaknesses" in measurement systems.
In response to the claims, a spokesman for the Treasury said: "The NAO has been very clear that good progress has been made in measuring efficiency gains. With our measurement guidance issued in the past year, systems have improved further, embedding a strong emphasis on assuring service quality."
The OGC was also praised for improving its reporting standards with comprehensive guidance on measurement, but the report said it was difficult to show that quality was being maintained in a number of cases.
The report also said that the number of projects the OGC had given a "red signal", to signify that they are unlikely to achieve efficiency savings by March 2008, had fallen from 3.7 per cent in December 2005, to 3 per cent in December 2006.
The NAO also warned that preparation for this year's Comprehensive Spending Review was distracting departments from the efficiency agenda. "There are some perceptions that over the past year the efficiency programme has lost some of its profile across government," the report said.
Progress within departments is varied. The Home Office reports £1.9 billion of expected efficiency gains, leaving only £16 million still to be achieved. The Department for Education and Skills, however, has made £1.2 billion, but still has to find £3.1 billion of savings by March 2008.
The NAO said the OGC should make its progress towards efficiency savings more publicly available. It also warned departments to improve their measurements.