Public sector managers do not have sufficient information on whether IT and back-office services offer value for money, a public spending watchdog has warned.
The warning comes as the UK's main audit bodies jointly issued a set of indicators to measure the value for money offered by public sector IT departments along with finance, human resources, estates management and procurement functions.
Keith Davis, director of efficiency practice at the National Audit Office, said: “At the moment, management boards of public bodies generally find it hard to get a grip on whether these parts of their organisations offer value for money.”
The UK’s public services are audited and inspected by a variety of watchdog bodies, but assessments usually focus on service delivery indicators, outcome measures and value for money across the organisation rather than that offered by IT and specific back-office areas.
“There wasn’t a very good framework for value for money assessments of individual corporate services. That was in part because there wasn’t a definitive set of measures,” Davis said. “We’re not saying people didn’t have any data at all, but there wasn’t a coherent framework. We would certainly say there were some weaknesses in their assessment.”
Public bodies are under continued pressure to reduce costs and improve efficiency, but the audit bodies said the indicators would also “aid decisions on shared services initiatives” – a key plank of the flagship Transformational Government programme launched by the Cabinet Office.
Davis said: “Decisions on shared services are dependent on having some good measures in place. [Without them] you really have no idea whether a move to shared services is or has been a good one.”
The indicators drawn up by the NAO, Audit Commission and audit bodies for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are designed to be used as a linked set, so that measures of cost and investment can be weighed against efficiency and effectiveness indicators.