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GDS spend controls saved £339m in 2015/16, says Cabinet Office

GDS project approvals process helped reduce potential IT spending, says government audit agency

The Government Digital Service (GDS) helped to save £339m through its spend controls and approval processes for Whitehall IT projects during 2015/16, according to the Cabinet Office.

The figures are part of a total of £3.3bn of operational savings made through a number of internal measures to improve government procurement, to reduce the Whitehall property estate and by tackling fraud and error.

The savings were assessed by the Government Internal Audit Agency (GIAA). The GIAA said the GDS savings came from “intervention in departmental digital and technology projects”, but pointed out the figures come from comparing “differences between original and revised, approved plans rather than between original plans and actual spend”.

In other words, the savings identified is money that may have been spent without GDS intervention, rather than a reduction in an amount of money that was already being spent. In the previous financial year, GDS provided £599m of savings.

“GIAA are content with the assertion that GDS Standards Assurance Savings Team savings are identified through controls, cancelled projects and ICT Strategy savings. GIAA are able to give moderate assurance as the actual cost reductions will not be realised and confirmed until each scheme is completed and will be delivered across the period of delivery, which could be more than one reporting year,” said the GIAA report.

The audit agency relied on data provided to the Cabinet Office, it said: “The validation exercise did not test the accuracy or completeness of data supplied to the Cabinet Office by government departments, only that the Cabinet Office had compiled sufficient evidence to support the savings claimed.”

The GDS spend controls process states that any government IT contract worth more than £100m needs GDS approval, as do any digital services worth more than £100,000. However, GDS director general Kevin Cunnington has said he expects to relax the controls as departments improve their own capabilities.

“£100,000 now for a digital programme is just too low, so we’re looking at two things. One is, what is the right level of control? The controls have been a bit of a proxy for saying, ‘are you doing the right work?’. They tend to go a bit adversarial if you’re using financial controls to get people to a design you’re comfortable with,” he told Computer Weekly in October 2016.

“We’ve taken a different approach and are sitting down with departments every month to review their six-month, one-year, five-year plans and ask whether we are all going in the same, right direction.”

Read more about GDS spend controls

Cabinet Office minister Ben Gummer said the savings show the government is working to achieve a “strong and stable” economy.

“We have made significant steps forward in tackling fraud, selling off redundant government property and making better use of modern digital technology to drive saving,” he said.

“The government is committed to delivering value for money for taxpayers and the Cabinet Office will continue to drive savings right across departments as set out in the Spending Review in 2015.”

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