Report on Invest to Save Funding in Northern Ireland

Session: Session currently unavailable

Date: 18 March 2016

Reference: NIA 325/11-16

ISBN: 978-1-78619-227-1

Mandate Number: 2011-2016

Web version - Report on Invest to Save Funding in Northern Ireland.pdf (342.94 kb)

Executive Summary

The 2009 Spending Review highlighted that the Northern Ireland Executive would continue to operate within a constrained budgetary position and consequently it needed to deliver sustainable cost reductions.  One of the proposals to meet this challenge was the establishment of an Invest to Save fund in Northern Ireland.  In total £311 million was allocated and £254 million spent over the period 2010 to 2015.

Invest to Save (ITS) was introduced to fund departments for activities that they would not normally take forward and that would generate significant savings in the budgetary period from 2010 to 2015.  The aim was for funded projects to have a clear link between the investment made and the savings generated.  In practice, however, the schemes did not deliver in the way that they should have and many projects were approved which did not generate any quantified savings.  Even where projects did deliver savings, there was an absence of monitoring arrangements across the three schemes and there was no consistent collation and validation of reported savings.

The three separate Invest to Save schemes were designed and delivered within relatively short time-scales.  As a result of this, the respective schemes did not learn lessons from each other, nor did they seek to tap into experience elsewhere.  Such short timescales to apply for funds did not enable departments to develop the best or “most genuine” Invest to Save projects.  It is the Committee’s view that the poor design of the three Invest to Save schemes resulted in a lack of buy-in by senior officials in departments and impinged on successful delivery. 

One lesson from the experience of similar schemes in England and Wales is that schemes of this nature have the potential to promote managed risk-taking; encourage innovation in service delivery; provide stimulus for reform; and identify new, joined-up approaches to the delivery of public services.  This did not happen in Northern Ireland – conversely, innovation and risk-taking took a back seat. 

Invest to Save was a novel programme initiated by the Executive to do something different and to drive future savings.  This funding stream needed to have clear objectives and selection criteria; and should have been thoroughly appraised, monitored and evaluated.   It is clear, however, that the Invest to Save schemes lacked these basic procedures. 

Although the Committee recognises that individual accounting officers need to be accountable for their own spending, there also needs to be central oversight and control in a ring-fenced scheme of this nature.  The lack of formal targets, and the absence of central monitoring, reporting and evaluation, means that it is not possible to assess the overall effectiveness and value for money of Invest to Save or to validate reported savings. 

The Committee welcomes the Department of Finance and Personnel’s acknowledgement that it has accepted the recommendations in the Audit Office report and has learned lessons from the Invest to Save schemes.  It is also encouraged by assurances that the Department has tightened up guidance on ring-fenced funding and introduced more rigorous evaluation and monitoring arrangements for the £30 million Change Fund and other cross cutting reform programmes.  The Committee fully expects that this more robust central oversight will be the norm in future schemes and initiatives of this nature.

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