Labour MPs have put down lots of Written Questions to Ministers at the Department for Communities and Local Government. The idea behind them is to expose double standards. The hypothesis is that the DCLG telling local authorities to save money but not been applying the same principles to its own budget. The difficulty with this Labour line of enquiry is that it has repeatedly the DCLG has been following its own rules. It has also been getting effective results.

Here is a recent example from the Labour MP for Coventry South Jim Cunningham:

Mr Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government how many invoices have been paid more than once resulting in a duplicate payment by his Department since May 2010.

Brandon Lewis: In my Department’s publication “50 ways to save”, we asserted that councils could save money by conducting audits of potential duplicate payments and reforming accounts payable processes. This was based on research by Experian of both local and central Government bodies.

In my answer of 22 January 2013, Official Report, column 210-211W, I noted how my Department has itself undertaken such best practice, and had duly recovered £48,186 of taxpayers’ money from duplicate payments, apart from a sum of £257 which was not recoverable. I also noted that we had commissioned business analytics and information services firm, PRGX, to carry out a full spend-recovery audit on our accounts payable system and help us further improve and reform administrative practices.

The PRGX analysis and best practice recommendations has since helped us recover further payments. From May 2010 to October 2013, a total of £61,301 has been recovered from 20 duplicate payments made in that period, while just £257 (from three payments) was not recoverable. My Department has also been able to recover a further £32,000 from historic payments made between 2006 and 2009.

PRGX’s audit report has subsequently noted that 99.999% of the transaction value reviewed was processed correctly, and that:

“DCLG have been effective in limiting supplier overpayments. The low rate of errors identified by the audit and statement request process indicates the current processes and controls continue to limit supplier overpayments.”

This sizeable saving endorses what we said in “50 ways to save”: systematically addressing duplicate payments is a common-sense way of saving taxpayers’ money.

I suppose local authorities will routinely claim that they already have the best possible processes in place to avoid duplicate payments. The louder they protest the less likely it is to be true. There should be a rigorous, open minded, approach to finding greater savings in this area. Incidentally, I missed duplicate payments in my recent list of 201 ways to save money in local government which I wrote for the Taxpayers Alliance. So make that 202.

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