Around two-thirds of government cost-cutting projects examined by the Audit Office in Northern Ireland offered no assurance that genuine savings have been achieved, it has been revealed.
Since 2008, when the efficiency targets were introduced across the executive, there has been a lack of understanding among government departments as to what a real efficiency saving is and what criteria should be used to measure its success, the spending watchdog said.
The audit office report said: "We recommend that departments do more work to improve information systems, particularly to identify the unit cost of activities and to quantify current performance."
In some cases there was a reduction in the budget and a cut in service delivery, or income was raised by introducing new or increased charges which passed the cost on to the user, the report said.
Capital projects were postponed or cancelled and unit costs increased.
The Department for Regional Development (DRD) generated savings by withdrawing, from 2008-09, an annual £2.1 million bus route subsidy paid to transport company Translink. Services provided by Ulsterbus have been reduced on low use routes and timetables.
The report said: "Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO) considers that this saving is not an efficiency as it has resulted in a reduction in service delivery."
DRD generated additional income by increasing parking fees and penalties to the public.
SDLP MLA John Dallat said: "It is alarming that around two-thirds of the projects examined by the Audit Office offered no assurance that genuine savings have been achieved.
"This means that since 2008 when the efficiency savings were introduced across all departments 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."