NAO scrutiny 'generated £1.1bn in savings and better public services' in 2019

Watchdog says every £1 it spends creates £16 of positive financial impact

Photo: NAO - National Audit Office

The National Audit Office’s work generated £1.1bn in savings, improved services and other benefits last year, the watchdog has said.

The watchdog far exceeded its target for positive financial impact by some £400m, generating £16 for every £1 it spent, the watchdog has said.

The regulator has audited £1.7tr of government books in 12 months, according to its 2019-20 annual report, published today.


“Each year we assess where our work has resulted in an improvement with a financially quantifiable benefit for the public purse,” NAO chair Lord Michael Bichard wrote in the report.

In 2018-19 the positive financial impact was £539m – £8 for every £1 spent.

The 2019-20 figure included £82m in benefits and savings that have come from the NAO’s recommendations and work to support the Competitions and Markets Authority, it said. Resulting improvements have enabled the CMA to handle enforcement cases more effectively, close down unfruitful cases, and increase its capacity.

“These improvements have supported the strengthening of the competition and consumer regimes, and increased deterrence of anti-competitive commercial practices,” the report said.

But while the figures show the watchdog is having an impact, Bichard said public bodies were not taking on its recommendations quickly enough.

“I have constantly stressed the need for us to add value, to spread best practice and to measure our success by the impact we make, just as important in times of crisis as in times of business as usual. Is the public sector learning the lessons from our work? Yes, but not quickly enough,” he said.

The need to speed up departments’ responses to its audits was part of the driving force behind the NAO’s new strategy, which was published last month.

Writing for CSW about the strategy and the consultation leading up to it, NAO head Gareth Davies said he had been “heartened by the high regard in which the NAO is already held, but the feedback confirmed [...] that there is scope for us to be more influential still”.

The strategy set out three priorities: to improve support for effective accountability and scrutiny; to increase its impact on outcomes and value for money; and to provide more accessible insights.

“We heard from our stakeholders that it is not as straightforward as it should be to find out what we have learned on a topic and to understand how they can apply this to improve delivery and value for money,” Davies wrote.

And this year our work had a positive financial impact of £1.1bn, comfortably exceeding our target of £700m. In this Annual Report we have included a range of case studies showing some of the qualitative benefits from our work

In a survey of organisations it audited, 89% said its financial audits were high quality and 71% had actively sought its feedback on accounting and financial control issues.

The report has been published as Bichard prepares to step down as chair of the NAO after six years.

“This role has afforded me the joy of working with people of the highest quality who have a passion for what they do. But all good things come to an end. Statute limits my term of office and I will soon step down. Chairing the NAO is a privilege and I wish the organisation every success,” he said.

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