Government spending on travel expenditure is too inconsistent, the National Audit Office has warned today.
In its latest report, the NAO says that while travel makes up a small amount of central government spending, more must be done to ensure official travel expenses are logged consistently across government.
“Despite the reputation risk, the centre of government has little oversight of official travel, although it does seek to manage the price of travel purchased,” the report said.
As a result, there is considerable variation between departmental travel policies regarding hotel rate-caps, travel upgrades, and in what situations civil servants can travel first-class.
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While some departments allow first class rail travel, others stipulate a journey must be a certain length to justify non-standard fare, but even this differs depending on which department is booking travel.
HM Treasury, for example, allows first class travel for journeys over three hours, while HM Revenue & Customs says civil servants can travel first class for a single journey of more than two and a half hours or when the total journey time is more than five hours.
The Cabinet Office told CSW that departments are responsible for their own travel policies but said government had introduced a payment framework to regulate cost.
The report also found that it is not possible to extract reliable data from the analytics tool Bravo Solutions, used by the Cabinet Office to capture government procurement information.
As a result, the NAO concluded that government has only a limited knowledge of what it spends overall on travel.
“Bravo Solutions relies on departments and associated public organisations to give supplementary expenditure data, and to classify it correctly. Government bodies do this inconsistently,” said NAO.
Public Accounts Committee chair Margaret Hodge expressed concern over the lack of central oversight, and called for more to be done to ensure government is aware of how much civil servants are spending on travel.
“It is deeply concerning that government does not know what it spends on travel overall or the extent to which its officials are travelling," she said.