Spending watchdog finds £845m of errors in government modelling
  • Financial modelling company Gridlines is calling for transparency around how business critical government models are created and used.
  • National Audit Office finds spreadsheet errors of £800m and £45m in two financial models that had not been independently reviewed.

Errors which led to significant losses of taxpayers’ money and caused lengthy delays to critical government programmes could have been prevented by improving the way financial models are created and used across Whitehall, according to financial modelling experts.

A recent report from the National Audit Office (NAO) said there were, “significant weaknesses in how government produces and uses models” and raised concerns that “Without further progress, government plans will continue to be developed with weaknesses that place value for money at risk”.

Financial modelling expert and Partner at modelling support firm Gridlines, Kenny Whitelaw-Jones, is frustrated at how little progress has been made on improving standards within government departments. “There is no responsibility or accountability for upholding modelling standards and driving improvement across government”, he said.

The government’s own guidance requires that business-critical models are subject to independent quality assurance. The NAO report found that this does not happen consistently and that in their audit work across government they regularly find mistakes in departments’ models. They recently found errors of £800m and £45m in two financial models that had not been independently reviewed.

“It is taxpayers who are going to pay the price for the mistakes that stay hidden. The government must increase the transparency around financial models that are used to underpin critical project decision making and improve public trust”, Mr Whitelaw-Jones continued.

The government relies on financial modelling for business-critical activities – which in recent years has included planning NHS Test and Trace services and estimating settlement costs of leaving the EU. The NAO sampled 75 business-critical models used in government while compiling their report and found no information publicly available for more than half of them (45). Out of the 17 departments surveyed that have published registers of business-critical models, only four have been updated in the past five years.

In light of the NAO’s findings, Gridlines is calling on the government to:

  • Increase the transparency around the financial models used to underpin critical government decision making
  • Adopt standards for financial models to be used throughout government
  • Increase the use of independent model quality control as is the norm in the private sector
  • Increase communication around the inherent uncertainty in model outputs and take this into account in government decision making.

“Financial modelling is critical to how the government makes business-critical decisions, assesses risks and manages spending. Without further progress, more mistakes will be made and more public money will be wasted”, Mr Whitelaw-Jones said.

For more information on the NAO’s financial modelling in government report, please visit: https://www.nao.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/Financial-modelling-in-government.pdf