Committee of Public Accounts

Press Notice No. 16 of Session 2002-03, dated 9 May 2003


Mr Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, said today that it is hard to say yet what the Invest to Save Budget has achieved, but it is disappointing that so few cutting edge projects have been put forward.

Mr Leigh was speaking as the Committee published its 16th Report of this Session, which examined what the Invest to Save Budget-launched by the Treasury and the Cabinet Office to support departments' projects to improve the delivery of public services-has so far achieved and whether the lessons learnt from projects have been widely implemented. At July 2002, 334 projects costing some £310 million had been supported.

The Committee found that only a small number of Invest to Save projects have as yet been evaluated to assess their impact and what has, or has not, contributed to their success. There is a risk, therefore, that innovation and better ways of delivering services may be lost or not adopted by other public sector organisations. All projects should be subject to some form of evaluation and the results widely communicated.

Invest to Save implies that the programme is essentially about saving money and not about developing new approaches which have good potential to improve services. Such a perception could discourage civil servants from putting forward sufficiently innovative or cutting edge ideas. It is important that the objectives and aims of the Invest to Save Budget are clearly communicated and understood.

Projects that have been funded so far have a wide range of objectives and intended outputs. While this means that the potential for innovation is widely spread, there is a risk that financial support is so dispersed that its impact is reduced. Departments need to work together more to establish a nucleus of projects tackling similar issues with most potential to benefit from innovation. By ensuring that innovation and good practice is proven to work in a critical mass of projects other departments and agencies are more likely to adopt similar approaches.  

To help promote greater awareness of the importance of innovation each department should appoint a senior official responsible for championing innovation, including programmes such as the Invest to Save Budget, and ensuring that better ways of delivering services which have been successfully piloted are widely understood and adopted. 

As most projects are small in comparison to departments' total spending they have tended to receive less attention than larger programmes. Insufficient monitoring may result in failure to intervene in projects that are struggling, avoidable costs being incurred, or threats to the success of promising but difficult projects not being tackled early enough. Key milestones should be set for all projects against which progress can be monitored and action taken as necessary to increase the chances of projects being successful.

A willingness to adopt new innovative approaches to improve public services is more likely to become widespread if departments have confidence that the risks associated with innovation are well managed. As we have emphasised before, risk taking and innovation are consistent with the careful and proper control of public money. Controls should, however, focus on managing risks and not be a barrier to change.

Mr Leigh said today:

"The limited evaluation so far of projects supported by the Invest to Save Budget makes it hard to say what the programme has achieved. It is certainly disappointing that so few cutting edge projects have been put forward. Departments should work together more to achieve a critical mass of projects and each appoint a senior official as their innovation champion.

The biggest project to date, the Department for Work and Pensions' ONE project piloting new ways of getting benefit recipients into work, is a good example of well managed risk taking despite the disappointing outcome. It is a shame that the Department failed to capitalise on their initially sound management of risk and decided to roll out the full Jobcentre Plus initiative before knowing whether the pilot project was successful."

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