Departments don't understand impact of cuts, says National Audit Office chief Amyas Morse

NAO chief Amyas Morse warns officials may not be thinking through implications of spending reductions

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Whitehall officials may be making cuts without understanding their impact, the head of the National Audit Office has said.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Amyas Morse said spending reductions in departments were sometimes made without fully thinking through their implications, citing cuts to local government which ended up putting additional pressure on the NHS.

He said: “If you’re going to do radical surgery it would be nice if you knew where the heart was. You’re slightly more likely not to stick a knife in it by mistake.”

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Sir Amyas told the paper civil servants were sometimes reluctant to address problems identified by his watchdog.

“What I observed is something that I will collectively describe as the feather game," he said. "Because if you keep blowing the feather hopefully it will land on someone else."

He also warned of an “optimism bias” among ministers in which projects were pursued because of personal belief rather than following a proper analysis of possible outcomes.

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