Government ministers are not properly evaluating projects that cost billions of pounds, according to the chief of parliament’s spending watchdog.
National Audit Office (NAO) boss Gareth Davies says that government often has too “little information” on “what difference is made by the billions of pounds being spent”.
Davies wrote in The Times that he was concerned ministers have not learnt lessons from the pandemic and that it has “never been more important that the government makes the right choices”.
The UK’s Budget deficit reached £320bn in 2020-21 – the highest ever peacetime spend – as the government paid more than 10m people’s wages through the furlough scheme and launched a series of economic support programmes.
Research from the NAO found that just 8 per cent of large-scale government projects had robust evaluations.
Davies cited the Kickstart scheme as a key example.
He said there is very little government oversight of the success or failure of the scheme, which part subsidises employers to create short-term jobs for young Brits.
“Prior to the pandemic the government did take forward many lessons from the simulation exercises it undertook to prepare for potential pandemics. However, it did not act on some warnings that would have helped it prepare for a pandemic like Covid-19,” Davies said.
“What we have found by auditing government’s work is that many of the interventions carried out by government are either not evaluated robustly or not evaluated at all. This means government is not learning from its successes or failures, and has little information in most policy areas on what difference is made by the billions of pounds being spent.”
A government spokesperson said: “Evaluating what we do to improve public services is a key part of our government reform programme.
“We recently launched an evaluation task force, which is already improving government services.
“The new £15m evaluation accelerator fund is also promoting high quality evaluation, to make sure we are delivering better for citizens.”