Advice services, Value for Money, and the failings of Whitehall

During these last few years of austerity, we have been told that cuts and savings have to be made, that we have to live within our means. We are all in this together. These are all phrases we have become used to. We have had to watch the pennies and have done so.

There seems to be one exception to much of this – government departments. I’m trying but can’t keep track of all government IT write offs.  The DWP wrote off over £40 million due to failed IT systems for Universal Credit. Just 5 months ago the Ministry of Justice wrote off £8.6 million for a failed attempt to outsource court fines.

A few years ago, BHT saw a reduction in funding from the Ministry of Justice that paid for the housing cases our advice service in Brighton could take on, from 1,450 to 590 cases each year. £8.6 million – the cost of the failed outsourcing – equates to about 57,000 new housing cases (what are called in advice services ‘new matter starts’). In human terms over 57,000 people could have received housing advice. Think how many homes could have been saved?

a couple of weeks ago it was reported that the government has spent more than £400,000 on an abortive attempt to impose new criminal legal aid reforms. £400,000 would pay for 2,000 housing new matter starts.

Our advice centre in Hastings is funded for 260 New Matter Starts, a total of £40,820 per year. It means the £400k write off could have supported this work for 8 years.

My colleagues in advice services with Legal Aid Agency contracts are reminded very regularly that the money we receive is public money and we have to be very careful and mindful of how we spend it. We have to justify, rightly so, how and why we’ve used that public money. I wonder why the Ministry of Justice does not have the same regard to public money?

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