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Government savings: More to do to improve rigour, completeness and credibility of reporting

1 March 2024

  • Cabinet Office not realising full potential to identify and report savings across Government
  • PAC report calls for reassurance over risks of double-counting and cost-shunting

The rigour, completeness and credibility of billions in reported Government savings made by cross-cutting functional teams, or ‘functions’, needs to be improved. In a report published today, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) finds that while functions have so far helped save over £6.8bn of taxpayers’ money, the Cabinet Office is not yet using them to their full potential to identify and report savings across government.

Since 2013, Government has set up functions to work across Government to provide expertise in areas such as HR, procurement or finance. There are now 14 functions, which have so far helped save over £6.8bn. But the PAC’s report finds that currently, functions do not report all the savings they produce, and not all functions report their savings. The actual efficiency savings made by the functions, and therefore the amount of taxpayers’ money that could be used elsewhere, may be much higher.

Despite some functions being in place for over 10 years, government does not have good, consistent, comparable information on efficiency savings for every department. One of the barriers to comparing progress between the functions, with the corresponding risk that efficiencies are being under-reported, is access to data. The PAC has repeatedly highlighted the need for timely and comprehensive data as essential for informed decision-making (e.g. the Whole of Government Accounts 2020-21 inquiry found inaccuracies and delays in Government’s balance sheet harmed transparency for billions in spending). The report calls for gaps to be addressed in existing data and savings to be fully captured.

The inquiry also explored whether having two parallel processes for reporting savings, one for the functions and one at departmental level, created the risk of double-counting savings, with the danger of two bureaucracies both working towards the same aim. Reporting functional savings and wider efficiency savings in parallel increases the risk of duplication in terms of savings claimed and bureaucratic effort, and the PAC’s report stresses it is essential that savings are not double-counted, and recommends clearer guidance on how to avoid it.

Another area of focus for the PAC was whether efficiencies produced by the functions were genuinely cash savings, not resulting in additional costs elsewhere in Government. The PAC’s scrutiny has shown in the past that attempts to improve efficiency can inadvertently reduce the quality of services or increase costs elsewhere, with efficiency plans without a clear idea of the implications for service users in particular leading to problems. The PAC has asked Cabinet Office and HM Treasury to report back on what assurance they have received from departments that savings claimed have not led to costs elsewhere in government.

Deputy Chair's comment

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP, Deputy Chair of the Committee, said:

“In straitened economic times for the public finances, finding the best way to do more with less is an essential exercise for any Government. Many billions of pounds have been saved by the putting in place of Government ‘functions’ in 2013, and the potential represented by these cross-cutting central teams of professionals for the best use of taxpayers’ money to be made is apparent.

Efforts to achieve these efficiency savings will be for naught if Government is not wide awake to the risks presented by under-reporting preventing greater amounts of funds being used elsewhere, double-counting, or costs being shunted across Government. Our recommendations in this area recognise the functions’ ability to reap dividends for the taxpayer, making it all the more important for their work to be reported accurately and consistently.”

Further information

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