NAO slates's 'haphazard' sci-tech money-chuck plan

'Department just wants to get money out the door'

The National Audit Office has criticised the haphazard approach of the department for Business, Innovation and Skills in how it invests its multi-billion funds in big science projects, such as supercomputers.

BIS has overall control of the government's expenditure on science, technology and engineering. The department is to spend £1.1bn in projects each year until 2021, an increase from £600m per year in 2012/13.

However, the NAO today said it needs to "develop a more systematic and informed approach to investing in science projects."

Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, also said the department has focussed on "getting money out of the door rather than ensuring value for the tax payer."

She said: "It is essential that the Department adopts a more informed approach to investing in science projects to provide taxpayers with confidence that it is properly protecting the £5.9 billion investment planned over the next five years."

The NAO found that the department’s processes for sifting project proposals and taking investment decisions have not been supported by good information.

It said the department's 2013 £189m project on big data and energy-efficient supercomputing as lacking adequate assessment across the board, including running costs, demand and return on investment.

In 2013 BIS highlighted “eight great technologies” the UK should invest in. These included: big data; satellites; robotics; synthetic biology; re-generative medicine; agri-science; advanced materials; and energy storage.

However, it has since remained quiet on how it plans to further investment in these areas.

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said today: "The Department has not used good quality information to decide which science capital projects to invest in to optimise scientific and economic benefits. We regard this, and other shortcomings, as undermining of BIS’s ability to prioritise and deliver value for money on its capital funding of scientific research.”

The report recommended BIS take a more systematic and informed approach to investment particularly in regard to identifying funding priorities. ®

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