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Government has no evidence £hundreds of billions of spending is working

27 May 2022

In a report today the Public Accounts Committee has concluded that “departments are not meeting government requirements on publishing evaluation plans and findings” or on “transparency of models and their outputs”, with more than one-third of chief analysts saying they are “only sometimes” able to publish evaluation findings as required.

In December 2019 the Prime Minister’s Implementation Unit found that only 8% of Government’s £432 billion spending on major projects had robust impact evaluation plans in place, and 64% of that - £276 billion of taxpayers’ money - had no evaluation at all.  

In its report, the Committee says “transparency is critical for the public to understand the evidence behind decisions and how money is being spent” – it also “allows departments to learn lessons from past projects and from each other”. However, it says “ministers have the final say on whether evaluations should be published, and some parts of government are reluctant to publish their evaluations. Since 2013 only 9 out of 17 Government departments have published their list of business-critical models.  The Committee was extremely surprised to learn that HM Treasury has only just started to ask departments to explain why they don’t plan to publish some evaluations. 

The Committee says model producers and users in government departments “do not adequately assess the range of plausible outcomes and are overly reliant on central estimates” that “do not reflect inherent uncertainty”, with little evidence of departments “using uncertainty analysis or developing contingency plans”.  

Chair's comments

Dame Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said:

"Government spends hundreds of billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on major projects with no evidence what is working or idea what to do when it isn’t.  

The Home Office describes its Rwanda refugee policy as ‘experimental and novel’ - so much that the Permanent Secretary sought a direction from the Minister to spend the money required, because it could not be shown that the programme will deliver its objectives with value for taxpayers’ money. Now we are told that the terms of the agreement with the Rwandan government may trump transparency to the UK taxpayer.  

That is absolutely unacceptable. Facing intertwined crises in our environment, energy supply and cost-of-living, every penny counts. Government must show its cards and prove it is delivering, and stop a programme quickly when it doesn't deliver - not gamble away taxpayers’ money.”

Further information

Image: Pixabay