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Defra criticised over financial management

The public spending watchdog says Defra is still not “achieving value for money” in its financial management.

A National Audit Office report [pdf] said despite some improvements it had expected faster progress by the department. Defra should have achieved a “higher level of financial maturity, given the resources spent”, the report says.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “Defra has made progress in its financial management. However, there is more to do and progress needs to speed up. The department should grasp the opportunity of its recently-launched change programme to instil good financial management across its business and deliver better value for money.”

The report said the department did not have a “fully embedded culture of sound financial management”. And whilst Defra has had some positive results from projects to strengthen financial management, it had not fully assessed the benefits of this.

The department is criticised for consistently reporting a “significant” underspend against its Parliamentary estimate. Although, Defra has improved its management of expenditure against its departmental expenditure limit, reducing its underspend in 2010/11. Defra’s financial monitoring and forecasting “is not always accurate or robust”, the report says, and it does not “fully understand the costs of its activities or plan and monitor robustly”.

A Defra spokesperson said: “The NAO report recognises progress made in Defra’s financial management and capability. Financial reporting has improved and the department has increased the number of permanent qualified finance staff. Defra always looks to find new ways to deliver value for money and we are making further improvements to achieve this.”

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