NAO casts doubt on GDS IT savings claims

The National Audit Office (NAO) has questioned the accuracy of government ICT savings in a report released today.


The National Audit Office (NAO) has questioned the accuracy of government ICT savings touted by the Government Digital Service (GDS).

The government said it saved £91 million on ICT last year through the ‘spend controls’ process, whereby GDS has to approve all spending on ICT by departments over £5 million and any digital projects worth over £100,000.

However, in a report published today, NAO criticised the methods used to calculate the savings GDS claimed to have clawed back from departments.

“In many cases, GDS did not calculate savings correctly in accordance with the guidance and method. In some cases, not all relevant costs were included,” the spending watchdog said.

“The evidence for savings is hard to follow. There was uncertainty over some numbers with aspects of the cases still being removed or evidenced well past year-end.”

It added: “While GDS’s business model is based on an ‘agile’ approach, developing proposals flexibly, it still needs to ensure that it gathers sufficient robust evidence to support savings claims.”

The £91 million total was not the original savings figure claimed by government, as it was changed to take into account the errors identified by the NAO before being publicly released.

The NAO declined to say what the government had claimed as the original sum when asked by ComputerworldUK.

Repeated issue

The NAO said that GDS knew about problems with its methods over a year ago as the auditor reported similar issues for the figures in 2012/13.

It added: “Since the data and the process are entirely within Cabinet Office, GDS could have made more progress to resolve them.”

The NAO said that the Cabinet Office should work to identify the underlying reasons for the errors and improve the controls, which are implemented by its Efficiency and Reform Group (ERG) unit.

This should ‘as a minimum’ include more training for staff recording savings and more scrutiny of recorded savings, it said.

It also recommended that ERG work more closely with departments and seek to get their full agreement on any claimed savings.

The £91 million is part of overall savings of £14.3 billion that ERG claimed to have saved in 2013/14.

ComputerworldUK contacted the Cabinet Office for comment but did not receive a response.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said:  “The Efficiency and Reform Group has worked to improve the calculation of savings but there are still areas where the quality of evidence must be improved.

“ERG has undoubtedly achieved significant savings for the taxpayer, as well as generally injecting pace and priority into the efficiency agenda. But it should do more to strengthen its own processes. It should also look to improve its reporting on how the scope of the savings has changed over time.”