Government data systems still falling short, warns NAO

Only half of the data systems used by government departments to assess their progress against public service targets are fit for purpose, the National Audit Office has warned.

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Only half of the data systems used by government departments to assess their progress against public service targets are fit for purpose, the National Audit Office has warned.

The public spending watchdog found that 15% of the 237 systems in 17 government departments were either not fit for purpose or were not yet fully established. Another 35% were found to be “broadly appropriate” but “needed strengthening”.

The systems are used to measure how far departments are progressing against the 2005 – 2008 Public Service Agreement (PSA) targets set by the government.

Data system quality had increased over time, with improvements made to 46% of the systems, but government departments had been “less successful at transferring the learning to the development of new data systems”, the NAO said.

The audit body urged that accountability for the quality of the data systems “should be clearly established”, and should be separated from performance accountability to avoid perverse incentives.

Data issues should be considered when performance targets were set and reports to departmental management boards should disclose limitations to data quality, the NAO recommended. Departments should also introduce a management function to challenge and approve data quality.

NAO chief Sir John Bourn said: “It is good news that data systems are improving, but departments must transfer these lessons to their new data systems. If we are to have confidence in the performance reported by government, all systems used to monitor it must be robust.”

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