I asked the Department for Environment, Food and Rural affairs how much they spend on their administrative overhead, and how this is coming down under goverment plans to cut it.
I was most suprised by the answer. I was told that Defra’s overhead was £739.9 billion in 2009-10, £735 billion in 2010-11, and £732 billion in 2011-12, a modest decline. The problem with these numbers is they exceed total public spending for the years concerned!
I guessed when composing the written answer a mistake had been made, and that maybe I should divide all the numbers given by 1000 to get to the right figures. I decided to check the numbers against the published DEFRA annual report. To my surprise I discovered the same error in that. The table states quite clearly the numbers are £m, when they are probably £000. More interestingly, the Annual Report also records that the “Net resource outturn” (one measure of total spending) for 2010-11 was just 4,736,182, (no units given) yet elsewhere in the Report this appears as £4.736 billion which is the more likely figure.
If we assume the error is a mere factor of 1000 and the rest of the numbers are right, the DEFRA overhead has remained high in the period 2008-12, but is now forecast to come down more rapidly to £646m in 2012-13. What is worrying is that many officials were doubtless involved in compiling the annual accounts, and more in drafting the answer to my question. Ministers signed off the figures. Cutting overhead costs is a high priority of this government. You would have thought the Treasury and the Cabinet office would be cross examining the departments on their annual report figures. Despite all this, many wrong figures have been published. It is also clear no-one reads these publications. If I mistype a figure or word on this blog as I can do, producing it on my own often at speed, readers usually alert me within the hour to my error and it gets corrected. No-one seems to notice these wrong government figures for weeks on end.
More interesting is where the cuts occur.
“Championing Sustainable development” will lose all admin budget this year. So will Championing Sustainable development (NDPB), and “Strong rural communities”. “Sustainable Consumption and Production falls by more than half, to £4.4m from £10.39 m last year. These seem sensible proposals. “Adapting to Climate Change” goes up from £2.9m to £10 m, a large increase. It would be interesting to know why. The Department does not on this plan cut its overall overhead by the 30% of the government policy by 2014-15, but does get it down by a useful 22%.