A Report published today by the Comptroller and Auditor General, Kieran Donnelly, examines the delivery of £1,600 million in reported efficiency savings by Northern Ireland government departments between 2008 and 2011. The report focuses on a sample of 42 efficiency projects selected from the largest spending departments (including health and education).
Mr Donnelly said: “There are some good practice examples where real efficiency savings are likely to have been delivered. These include areas such as improved procurement, energy efficiency and efforts to reorganise the workforce to improve productivity“. However, he added: “for around two thirds of the projects we examined, the Audit Office can offer no assurance that genuine efficiency savings have been achieved. This reflects a lack of understanding of what represents an efficiency saving and a lack of sufficient financial and performance information”.
The measurement of departmental efficiencies
It is important that all planned efficiency savings are capable of being measured. Although there is extensive guidance on best practice in measuring efficiency savings this has not been followed in most of the projects the Audit Office examined.
14 of the 42 projects reviewed did not have the basic financial and performance information necessary for the Audit Office to make an informed judgment on whether efficiency savings had been achieved. In addition, in 13 of the projects the types of activities undertaken did not meet the definition of an efficiency saving.
15 projects are likely to have achieved real efficiency savings. However, in 4 of these projects there is some risk that the quality of service to users has been adversely affected. It was a key feature of the Programme that savings should not be achieved by simply cutting services to priority frontline services.
Management of the Efficiencies Delivery Programme
The Audit Office identified a number of weaknesses in the management of the Efficiency Delivery Programme. Guidance provided to departments was not sufficiently detailed and guidance issued was not always fully implemented.
Departments produced and published Efficiency Delivery Plans setting out what savings they planned and how these would be achieved. However, Efficiency Delivery Plans lacked detail on the rationale for the chosen efficiencies and the basis of measurement, and offered insufficient assurance that front line services were being protected.
Overall, the Audit Office found that the reporting of efficiencies was not comprehensive, transparent or meaningful.
Background briefing can be obtained from the Audit Office by contacting Eddie Bradley (028 9025 1011) or Jacqueline O’Brien (028 9025 1056).