Government IT efficiency gains in doubt

The government’s claims of efficiency savings from the use of IT are unclear and could be inaccurate, the House of Commons Treasury select committee has said.

The government’s claims of efficiency savings from the use of IT are unclear and could be inaccurate, the House of Commons Treasury select committee has said.

In a report published on 25 January the committee said there was “some confusion” about the figures being publicised by chancellor Gordon Brown, and warned that possible double-counting between departments could have led to wrong information being published.

Issuing his pre-budget report to parliament last December, Brown said £3bn of planned procurement savings had been exceeded by £1bn  “a year early”, supported by the use of IT.

His report said the public sector was now on course to hit a £21bn efficiency savings target set last year.

Some of the IT projects said to have helped the government meets its targets included the re-negotiated Department of Work and Pensions IT contract, which Brown expected to deliver average annual savings worth £180m.

A new Probation Service computer system for automating the preparation of court reports was also cited as saving 110,000 hours of probation officer time a year.

Brown also mentioned the Department of Health joint venture company in partnership with outsourcer Xansa, which was set up to manage NHS back-office processes. This move is expected to save at least £15m a year by 2008.

In addition, the Department for Transport had reported that it is making efficiency gains of more than £350,000 a year through on-line booking of driving tests.

But the select committee said there is confusion about the total savings publicised, as the same figures reported by the DoH are also mentioned by other departments, including the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

It added that elements of a total savings figure issued by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) are also included in these departments' reports.

The select committee said this makes it difficult to assess the ODPM's claim that local authorities have achieved £750m of savings from 2004-5.

The committee also pointed out that the Treasury itself has failed to follow its own guidance, by not publishing its own efficiency gains.

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