A Stormont department eased budget pressures by increasing parking fees and penalties for motorists, a damning new report has revealed.
The Department for Regional Development has been slammed by the Northern Ireland Audit Office for attempting to pass off the increased parking charges as efficiency savings.
As part of its efficiency programme to cut more than £130m from its budget over a three-year period, the DRD decided to extend on-street parking in July 2008 and increased the number of traffic attendants — leading to an increase in parking penalties.
But the Audit Office has hit out at the move. It stated: “DRD generated additional income and reduced demand on the Executive’s budget by increasing parking fees and penalties to the public.”
The report continued: “The Audit Office considers that this measure does not represent an efficiency, as the savings reported to have resulted from the generation of additional income in the form of increased costs to the service users.”
Around two-thirds of 42 Government efficiency saving projects examined by auditors were found not to have achieved “genuine efficiency savings,” according to a report released on Tuesday by the NIAO.
Between 2008 and 2011 Northern Ireland Government departments made reported efficiency savings of £1,600m.
The NIAO report also found that around one-third of projects reviewed did not have “the basic financial and performance information necessary” to make an “informed judgment on the achievement of efficiency savings”.
According to the report, the DRD’s increased parking fees was one of a number of examples where departments had increased charges as a means of raising income to help meet saving targets.
Other efficiency saving projects that failed to deliver “genuine” savings include:
- The introduction of car park charges by the Southern Health and Social Care Trust at Craigavon and Daisy Hill Hospitals.
- Withdrawal by the DRD of an annual £2.1m bus route subsidy which has led to a reduction on low use routes and timetables.
- A reduction of security hours at acute hospital sites by the Northern Health and Social Care Trust.
- Constraining pay levels for teachers and non-teachers below an anticipated rate. In fact, pay rose and pupil numbers dropped.
The NIAO said that projects had not delivered genuine efficiency savings if cuts had been made to service delivery, charges had been increased to raise income, capital projects were postponed or cancelled, the unit cost of provision had increased, or if investment costs were not netted off the claimed efficiency.
SDLP MLA John Dallat said: “Increased parking fees and penalties introduced by the DRD are rubbished in the report as serious efficiency savings. There has been an alarming level of ignorance as to what a real efficiency saving is and what criteria should be used to measure its success.”
According to auditors, there were many cases where it was not possible to determine if quality of service had been maintained following the implementation of efficiency savings.
In one case, almost 30 beds at Whiteabbey and Holywell hospitals were closed, which produced savings of £1.4m following a Northern Health Trust project to treat patients with mental health problems in their own homes.
However, the NIAO said there is “insufficient evidence to determine whether efficiency savings have resulted and given the closure of beds, this may cause problems if the resources are required in the future”.
Concern was also raised that a number of projects reported efficiency savings without netting off the additional costs incurred in achieving them.
For example, the Health and Social Care Trusts identified savings on administration costs of up to £49m a year arising from the Review of Public Administration (RPA). These savings were achieved in part from the rationalisation of posts and centralisation of services.
But the cost of implementing the reductions was £82m.
The Department of Health told the NIAO that trusts “had consistently publicised both the costs and the savings throughout the RPA process”.
Eleven of the projects examined by NIAO are “likely to represent efficiency savings”.
These include areas such as improved procurement, energy efficiency and efforts to reorganise the workforce to improve productivity.
“There are some good practice examples where real efficiency savings are likely to have been delivered,” Auditor General Kieran Donnelly said.
Story so far
Northern Ireland Government departments delivered a reported £1,600m in efficiency savings between 2008 and 2011. However, a report released today by the Audit Office has found that two-thirds of projects examined have not achieved genuine efficiency savings. The Audit Office examined 42 efficiency projects selected from the largest spending departments, including health and education.