Committee of Public Accounts Press Notice

Committee of Public Accounts recommendations on public services accepted by Government

The Government has now responded to a further 16 reports recently issued by the Committee of Public Accounts.

Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee, today said:

“Once again the recommendations of our Committee are being translated into action by Government departments.

“I am particularly pleased to see that hundreds of thousands of children will benefit from improved methods by the Child Support Agency to calculate and collect maintenance payments. The Home Office is planning work to support victims and witnesses of the anti-social behaviour that is blighting many of our towns and city centres. And the rail industry is being encouraged to simplify the current fare structure.

“Our work is also leading to savings for the taxpayer. HMRC is acting to cut the running costs of its IT systems and is dealing more rigorously with its IT suppliers. The Office of Government Commerce has signalled its intention to get better value from the vast sums the Government spends on external advisers. And Primary Care Trusts are using electronic rostering to improve the management information they need to employ temporary nursing staff cost-effectively.”

 Among the improvements secured by the Committee are the following:

• The Child Support Agency is taking steps to make better use of the methods it uses to calculate and collect maintenance payments.  The number of cases in receipt of maintenance is reported to have increased from 385,000 in March 2005 to 486,000 cases by June 2007, benefiting around 660,000 children. And the Department for Children, Schools and Families has put in place measures to improve the financial management of children’s centres and their ability to direct resources where they are most effective. 

  Work is planned by the Home Office to support victims and witnesses of anti-social behaviour, including advice on providing help-lines in support of a 24-hour service, and a national support network.

• The Ministry of Defence has introduced a range of actions to increase recruitment and retention, including the new One Army Recruiting change programme which will provide a more efficient and effective recruiting process across the Regular and Territorial Army. It is also examining better ways of recruiting, training and supporting Reserve Forces, and offering enhanced medical support to Reservists on their return from operations.

• The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is addressing key risks to delivering a successful Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012 and legacy benefits in the longer term, by developing plans to secure wider benefits for London and the rest of the UK, and strengthening oversight and risk management for the programme as whole.

• HM Revenue & Customs is taking steps to reduce IT running costs and has set more rigorous targets for the delivery of IT projects by its IT suppliers. The Government has agreed that, if a department decides to pay an incoming supplier its transition costs, the supplier will not be paid a profit on those costs.  The Department is also tackling VAT Missing Trader Fraud by improving the timeliness and quality of information exchanged with other EU Member States.

• The Office of Government Commerce has launched a new programme, with Permanent Secretary oversight, to improve the value for money of the government’s spending on external consultants. OGC, together with the Cabinet Office’s Transformational Government Team, is also exercising tougher scrutiny and oversight over all high-risk and mission-critical IT-enabled programmes and projects. And the Government’s central procurement arm, called OGCbuying.solutions, has now been set a tougher target to save £1 billion a year by 2010-11, compared with £500 million in 2006-07.

• The Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform plans to produce frequent estimates of the cost of British Energy’s liabilities.

• Primary Care Trusts are implementing electronic rostering to improve the real-time monitoring of temporary nursing staff and associated costs. Following the joint venture between the Information Centre and Dr Foster LLP, the Department of Health has accepted that open competitive processes for awarding contracts should be the norm.

• Natural England has improved the clarity and usability of its website giving information on open access to walkers and others users of the right to roam countryside.

• Trains users should notice improvements to their service as the Government encourages the rail industry to simplify the fare structure and refund customers with the difference when they are charged more than the lowest fare on offer.

Notes to Editors

1. This information is contained in Treasury Minutes presented to Parliament on 11 October by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. 

2. For more details on the Government’s response to the PAC reports, see Appendix A.

Appendix A

The Government was responding to the following reports by the Committee of Public Accounts:

Ministry of Defence: Reserve Forces

The Ministry of Defence has made extensive use of Reserve Forces in Iraq and now in Afghanistan. In response to the Report by the Committee of Public Accounts, the Department is examining better ways of recruiting, training and supporting Reservists, in particular by improving and monitoring fitness levels and enhancing medical support offered to Reservists on their return from operations. It is also improving the information it holds about the skills of Reservists and about the costs of Reserve Forces. 

Ministry of Defence: Recruitment and Retention in the Armed Forces

In response to the Committee’s concerns about personnel shortfalls, the Department acknowledges that the shortfalls are higher than it would wish and recognises the importance of taking the necessary action to address the shortfalls. A range of actions to increase recruitment and retention have been put in place - the Army for example has initiated the One Army Recruiting change programme which will provide a more efficient and effective recruiting process across the Regular and Territorial Army. The Department has also expanded its research programme in order to better understand the reasons for people leaving and what encourages them to stay.

HM Revenue and Customs: ASPIRE- The re-competition of outsourced IT services

HM Revenue & Customs is examining how IT running costs can be reduced to meet the requirements of the 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review, and is undertaking benchmarking of prices. In response to a Committee of Public Accounts recommendation it has set more rigorous targets for the delivery of IT  projects, raising its IT supplier’s target for delivering projects on time from 75 per cent to 90 per cent, and it is reviewing specific targets for mission-critical projects. The Government has agreed with the Committee’s recommendation that if, exceptionally, a department negotiates to pay transitions costs to an incoming supplier it should not pay a profit on these costs. 

HM Revenue and Customs: VAT Missing Trader Fraud

The Department is improving both the timeliness and quality of information exchanged with other EU Member States, which is a key measure in tackling VAT Missing Trader Fraud. In response to the Committee’s recommendations, the Department has changed its arrangements for recording, evaluating and tracking mutual assistance requests from other EU Member States, ensuring that it responds to all high priority requests within the 90 day deadline. The Department is also considering ways in which the VAT information exchange system could be better focussed on the quality rather than the quantity of the data exchanged.  The United Kingdom proposed the creation of a Member State Working Group to consider ways of improving the quality and value of VAT information exchange, which is supported by the European Commission and other Member States.

Central Government’s use of consultants

In response to the Committee’s conclusion that only half of the its previous recommendations on this subject had been implemented the OGC has launched the Consultancy Value Programme to improve value for money from government’s spending on consultancy. The Programme has Permanent Secretary oversight and specifically aims to address the recommendations of the PAC report. The Programme’s proposed changes include short term improvements such as collecting and sharing better quality management information on government’s use of consultants and longer term activity to help departments to plan their resourcing and training more effectively by identifying how to decide which skills departments should develop in house and which should be bought in.

Child Support Agency: Implementation of the Child Support Reforms

The Child Support Agency is taking steps to make better use of the methods it uses to calculate and collect maintenance payments.  The Child Maintenance and Other Payments Bill is progressing through Parliament and should enable the Agency to make better use of information held by HM Revenue and Customs to calculate and collect maintenance, reducing the scope for delay and avoidance by non-resident parents.  The Agency has also increased the methods used to collect maintenance, which now include: more flexible payment methods for non-resident parents; increasing the use and effectiveness of deduction of earnings orders, including making this method of payment available to all customers not just those who default or are likely to default; increasing the use of Private sector debt collection agencies; and launching a public awareness publicity campaign.    

The right of access to open countryside

In response to the Committee’s recommendations, Natural England has improved the clarity and usability of its website for open access to the countryside (www.countryside.gov.uk) and plans to develop a policy statement in 2008 on how it might simplify the complex rules on whether walkers can take their dogs across open access land. According to Natural England’s first monitoring report on usage, there were an estimated 18.6 million visits to access land in the last twelve months, although walkers were typically white and male. Natural England has responded to the Committee’s recommendation to explore improved public transport links to improve accessibility for those without ready access to a car by undertaking an investigation of existing guidance and good practices which it expects to complete by Spring 2008.

Sure Start Children’s Centres

In response to the Committee’s recommendations, the Department for Children, Schools and Families has put in place measures to improve the financial management of children’s centres by reshaping the National Professional Qualification for Integrated Centre Leadership to focus more on financial management, bringing forward its 2008-11 funding allocations, setting financial management standards and trialling a benchmarking tool, similar to that used in schools, for centre expenditure. It is also targeting funding at the most disadvantaged families, allocating resources for two outreach workers per centre in disadvantaged areas, and has created a website for sharing good practice.

Dr Foster Intelligence: A joint venture between the Information Centre and Dr Foster LLP  

In forming the joint venture with Dr Foster LLP the Department and Information Centre failed to open the opportunity to competition. The Department of Health has now fully accepted the Committee of Public Account’s conclusion that public business, including health informatics work, should be conducted in an open and transparent manner and in most instances open competitive processes are likely to lead to the best outcome.  The Information Centre contend that they are committed to transparently demonstrating the benefits and value of the joint venture; and furthermore that the joint venture has no unfair access to NHS data.

Anti-Social Behaviour

In response to the Committee’s recommendations, the Government will shortly commission a study to explore practitioners’ approaches to different anti-social behaviour interventions and to provide practical information about what works in different circumstances.  It has accepted the need for further work to support victims and witnesses of anti-social behaviour and will be publishing guidance on this including advice on providing help lines in support of a 24-hour service, and a national support network. 

The Modernisation of the West Coast Mainline

The Government acknowledges the lessons from the West Coast Mainline on controlling costs and monitoring such projects. Furthermore, it recognises that it needs to increase capacity and make fares more transparent across the network and is taking steps to do so. Its White Paper “Delivering a Sustainable Railway”, published in July 2007, specifies improvements in capacity and encourages the rail industry to simplify the fare structure, to guide passengers towards the lowest fare on offer and to refund them the difference if they are charged more.

Improving the use of temporary nursing staff in NHS acute and foundation trusts

 Some progress has been made in response to the Committee’s call to improve the management of temporary nursing.  Trusts using the National Audit Office’s good practice guide, and taking advice of NHS Employers and NHS Professionals, are taking key steps to improve the management of temporary nursing.  These include developing local strategies for managing temporary nursing and using NHS Professionals to audit the use of temporary nursing.  The implementation of the electronic staff record, alongside the roll out of electronic rostering, is being expedited to improve the real-time monitoring of temporary nursing and associated costs.

Delivering successful IT-enabled business change

The Office of Government Commerce and the Cabinet Office’s Transformational Government Team have responded positively to the Committee’s recommendations on improving the delivery of major IT-enabled business change programmes and projects. The changes include making sure departments learn from successful programmes and projects, and that bodies such as the OGC and the Chief Information Officers’ Council exercise tougher scrutiny and oversight over all high risk and mission-critical IT-enabled programmes and projects.

Preparations for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games - Risk assessment and management

In response to the Committee’s conclusions and recommendations, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has outlined the work it is doing to address key risks to delivering a successful Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012 and legacy benefits in the longer term.  These include development of a comprehensive programme document outlining details of each construction project, clarification of legacy plans for key venues and for the Olympic Park as a whole, development of plans to secure wider benefits for London and the rest of the UK in the longer term, and measures to strengthen oversight and risk management for the programme as whole.

The Restructuring of British Energy

The Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform has, as a result of its conversion and sale of 450 million British Energy shares in June 2007, diversified the assets of the Nuclear Liabilities Fund and thus reduced the Fund’s dependence on the Company’s performance.  Following recommendations made by the Committee to improve the procurement of external expertise, the Department ran competitions to appoint external advisers on the sale of British Energy shares in June this year.  The Department has committed itself to use the Office of Government Commerce framework for appointing advisers in future across the range of its work.  Work is also now underway to provide more frequent updates on the estimated cost of British Energy’s liabilities.

Assessing the value for money of OGCbuying.solutions

The Office of Government Commerce and its Agency, OGCbuying.solutions, have accepted all the recommendations made by the Committee of Public Accounts in its recent report on assessing the value for money of OGCbuying.solutions. The Agency has now been set a target to increase its level of savings from £500 million a year in 2006-07 to £1 billion by 2010-11.  It has also been tasked with reducing the duplication that exists between different public procurement organisations, and to negotiate consistently good deals which its customers want to use.