As an Irish News report noted today, the Northern Ireland Audit Office has released a report examining “the delivery of £1,600 million in reported efficiency savings by Northern Ireland government departments between 2008 and 2011.” I don’t have time to delve into the detail in the report [pdf file 1.2mb], but here are the main findings noted in the associated press release.
The measurement of departmental efficiencies
It is important that all planned efficiency savings are capable of being measured. Although there is extensive guidance on best practice in measuring efficiency savings this has not been followed in most of the projects the Audit Office examined.
14 of the 42 projects reviewed did not have the basic financial and performance information necessary for the Audit Office to make an informed judgment on whether efficiency savings had been achieved. In addition, in 13 of the projects the types of activities undertaken did not meet the definition of an efficiency saving.
15 projects are likely to have achieved real efficiency savings. However, in 4 of these projects there is some risk that the quality of service to users has been adversely affected. It was a key feature of the Programme that savings should not be achieved by simply cutting services to priority frontline services.
Management of the Efficiencies Delivery Programme
The Audit Office identified a number of weaknesses in the management of the Efficiency Delivery Programme. Guidance provided to departments was not sufficiently detailed and guidance issued was not always fully implemented.
Departments produced and published Efficiency Delivery Plans setting out what savings they planned and how these would be achieved. However, Efficiency Delivery Plans lacked detail on the rationale for the chosen efficiencies and the basis of measurement, and offered insufficient assurance that front line services were being protected.
Overall, the Audit Office found that the reporting of efficiencies was not comprehensive, transparent or meaningful.
Adds From the Belfast Telegraph report
In some cases there was a reduction in the budget and a cut in service delivery, or income was raised by introducing new or increased charges which passed the cost on to the user, the report said.
Capital projects were postponed or cancelled and unit costs increased.
The Department for Regional Development (DRD) generated savings by withdrawing, from 2008-09, an annual £2.1 million bus route subsidy paid to transport company Translink. Services provided by Ulsterbus have been reduced on low use routes and timetables.
The report said: “Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO) considers that this saving is not an efficiency as it has resulted in a reduction in service delivery.”