Evidence that central Government provides ‘little oversight’ over more than £500m spent every year on departmental travel is ‘deeply concerning’, according to a senior MP.
A new report form the National Audit Office (NAO) found the centre of government has little oversight of official travel leaving that to departments, which were found to ‘not managing demand for government travel sufficiently actively’.
NAO analysis suggests this has contributed to an increase in travel expenditure of 11% in real terms since 2010-11, ‘despite overall headcount reductions and advances in video and teleconferencing technology’.
Auditors also said evidence suggested government controls needed to be strengthened after finding 4 out of 100 transactions 'did not comply with travel policies'. It adds that policies and controls vary significantly between departments.
In 2013/14 central government reported £546m was spent on travel expenditure although this analysis does not routinely capture travel claimed by officials on expenses, the NAO reports.
The NAO found that in the same year central government departments booked 1.2 million rail journeys of which 99% were standard class but 41% were ‘anytime’ flexible tickets – the most expensive. Departments also booked 304,000 flights of which 94% were economy class.
Margaret Hodge MP, chair of the Committee of Public Accounts, said: ‘It is deeply concerning that government does not know what it spends on travel overall or the extent to which its officials are travelling.
‘Even though the vast majority of civil servants travelled in standard or economy class, I find it difficult to believe that government departments are getting best value for the taxpayer when 41% of the rail tickets booked in 2013-14 were ‘anytime’ flexible tickets – the most expensive available, typically between two and five times more expensive than the cheapest ‘advance’ fares.
‘Everyone knows that a bit of forward planning can result in getting a better deal, and so it’s madness that departments booked 492,177 expensive ‘anytime’ train tickets in 2013-14, compared with 281,385 cheaper ‘advance’ tickets. I expect government departments to be more efficient by planning ahead and booking travel which is good value for the public purse.’