Government wasting ‘billions’

Government departments are repeating ‘basic’ errors and wasting billions of pounds in the process, a committee of MPs warns today.

A review of its own investigations over the ten years by the public accounts committee finds that departments are failing to learn from their mistakes, or those made in other areas of the public sector.

“Basic errors are repeated time and again, despite fine words and earnest assurances to this committee,” said committee chairman Edward Leigh.

“Many public services are chronically marred by deadening complexity and bureaucracy. There is a continuing lack of leadership and drive. And government departments still disregard common and well-publicised pitfalls when they approach projects.”

Mr Leigh warns that addressing these problems could have real benefits for the average taxpayer – a two per cent improvement in the use of resources could generate savings of about £8 billion a year, the equivalent of taking two pence off the basic rate of tax.

The committee finds that government has acted upon most of its recommendations over the last decade – outlined in more than 400 reports – and a “great deal of progress” has been made.

And it also welcomes the Gershon review proposals, which the government accepted, to deliver more than £20 billion of efficiencies in public spending through a number of “backroom” reforms.

However, it cites a number of areas within Whitehall in which there has been “too little progress”, accusing departments of not properly planning or thinking through policies, and taking too long to implement improvements.

In addition, civil servants are not applying lessons learnt in one part of the public sector to other areas, and are continuing to make mistakes even after they have been identified, it says.

The MPs stress that many of the committee’s recommendations had not been radical and were “basic housekeeping”.

And they urged Whitehall as a whole to plan more carefully before implementing policy, to strengthen project management, reduce complexity and bureaucracy, improve productivity, be more commercially astute and tackle fraud in the system.