National Audit Office – so much on procurement we can’t keep up

I'm a big fan of the UK National Audit Office - not just because they have been a consulting client of mine but because they do good work that helps drive better value and performance in the public sector.  But... I can't help wondering whether their recent change in strategy might be counter-productive in one sense?

They are producing more reports than ever before; but generally shorter documents with (in some cases) less detailed research and analysis sitting behind the findings. This greater 'productivity' is very admirable in many ways, and has perhaps contributed to their avoiding the Audit Commission's fate; but if we just look at the week or so between March 25th and April 1st, they produced these reports:

Regulating Network Rail’s efficiency

MOD: The use of information to manage the logistics supply chain

Managing high value capital equipment in the NHS in England

Spending reduction in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Cabinet Office: The Efficiency and Reform Group’s role in improving public sector value for money

Now, all of those have some interesting procurement or supply chain angles to them.  But - and I know this won't be Amyas Morse's (their top man) main concern - I can't keep up with this flow of content.  And I think that is true of even the more general and better staffed media. So the net effect is that each report gets a more limited public profile or focus, and becomes less of an important piece of work in its own right.  An NAO report being issued used to be a bit of an event; the danger now is that we get used to a sort of constant background 'noise' of shorter, less definintve reports from the organisation.

The positives of this approach obviously include the ability to cover more ground and more topics, which is not to be dismissed. But I wonder whether NAO might consider something like a two-level approach; perhaps deliver (and signpost clearly) both the less-frequent, definitive, heavy-weight reports that made them highly respected; alongside shorter, snappier, more frequent papers.  Perhaps call them "NAO snapshots" or something.

Anyway, we are ploughing our way through their recent work and will report on points of interest shortly!

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First Voice

  1. Final Furlong:

    Excellent point Peter.

    Also, I’m not sure that the NAO is particularly transparent about how long it takes to generate a report and how much resource/cost each one takes.

    The NHS Consumables report was initiated in the early part of 2006 and I believe that the high value capital equipment one wasn’t far behind. Taking the consumables one as an example, it’s taken over 5 years to produce?
    And I should know because I was interviewed in relation to defining its original scope.

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