Lack of quality data hinders government's budgeting

by Kevin Reed

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18 Oct 2012

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National Audit Office

A LACK OF QUALITY INFORMATION is hindering government departments' ability to show that spending decisions are good value for money.

The National Audit Office's (NAO) report found that there were "many aspects" of government budgeting that compare with good practice – particularly around spend control – but it often fails to align with corporate planning.

"The approach to prioritising resource spending, which represents nearly 90% of all controllable spending, was less structured," the NAO found.

"Departments were initially unable to supply all of the information Treasury requested. While the Treasury made efforts to close information gaps during the review, the scope and quality of departmental data varied. In particular, information on the cost-benefit of resource spending was patchy and often made comparisons within and between departments difficult.

"The NAO has also found that the departments only weakly integrate budgets with their corporate operational plans. The budgetary system encourages departments to bid for funds based on their specific needs, and does not promote cross-government working."

The Treasury could play a greater role in helping the department learn from those with better practices, the NAO added.

High staff turnover within spending teams has hampered the Treasury's ability to maintain communication – only eight out of 52 staff members are left 20 months after the spending review of 2010 was implemented.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said today: "Good budgeting is an integral part of delivering any activity successfully and comparing actual results with what was planned. This needs more focused attention within government, particularly at a time when there is significant pressure on public spending and change across the public sector."

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