The National Audit Office, often called the government’s watchdog, scrutinises government spending on behalf of parliament and saves taxpayers millions of pounds, estimated in 2015-16 as £19 in savings for every £1 spent running the Office. In their Value for Money (VFM) studies, the NAO examine how government departments are spending taxpayers’ money, and produce reports which are presented to Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee.
After a competitive tendering process, in 2004 Oxford University Innovation was awarded an initial contract to manage the independent and objective review of the VFM reports. Since then OUI has continued to externally review NAO reports alongside two other reviewers. Over time, more than 55 different academics across the University – mainly from the Social Sciences – have undertaken consultancy on this project and provided their invaluable input on close to 300 reports. More recently, the core team of Oxford reviewers has also been advising the NAO on the development of best practice in the form of thematic reviews, tackling various topics from systemic issues brought out in NAO work, to the nature and scope of the VFM outputs. Both the NAO and the Oxford team are keen to build on the good relationships established over the years and have agreed to conduct regular bi-annual meetings between he NAO review teams and the academic reviewers to allow for more open and spontaneous exchange of feedback and ideas.
This long-standing relationship has not only benefited the NAO, but has indirectly contributed to saving taxpayers’ money. Professor Anthony Heath, one of the academic reviewers, observed that of all the government work he has done “this is probably the work that has had the most direct positive impact”.
Conducting reviews for the NAO is a way of engaging with important issues in the conduct of a great variety of our public services. Those issues are current, often ongoing, and it is not unusual for large sums and multiple stakeholders to be involved. It is a particularly stimulating activity for an academic, knowing one’s views and advice will be given serious consideration, make a difference to the NAO’s vital work, and through that work to the public service itself.
– Roy Westbrook, Emeritus Professor, Saïd Business School