Data expert team 'could save billions'

Keyboard and USBA dedicated team of data experts should be set up by the Government to identify poor practice that is costing the taxpayer up to £33 billion a year, a think-tank has said.

Policy Exchange said the "elite data force" should be given access to the vast quantities of information held by Whitehall departments in a bid to identify inefficiencies.
Reporting directly to Prime Minister David Cameron, it said, the team should be set a target of finding at least £1bn of savings in its first year of operation.

Between £13bn-£22bn could be cut from the day-to-day running costs of government and public services alone by using the most up-to-date analytical techniques, it suggested. Another £1bn-£3bn in benefit fraud and error could be avoided and £2bn-£8bn extra tax collected by better identifying cases to be investigated.

Particular changes proposed included scrapping the 10-yearly population census in favour of using existing statistics collected for other purposes and real-time analysis of airport queues. A new Code for Responsible Analytics would help meet privacy and civil liberty concerns.

Report author Chris Yiu said: "Extraordinary quantities of data are amassed in the course of running public services - from managing welfare payments and the NHS, through to issuing passports and driving licences. Finding ways to share or link this data together has the potential to save time for citizens and money for taxpayers.

"The government will need the capability to conduct analytics effectively, and the courage to pursue this agenda with integrity. This is only partly about cutting-edge data science skills. Just as important - if not more so - is ensuring its leaders are literate in the scientific method and confident combining big data with sound judgment."

Welcoming the report, a Cabinet Office spokesman said: "When this Government came into office it very quickly found that there was a total lack of accurate management information.

"Ministers and officials were all too often comparing apples and pears and in fact, as metrics were revised every year, they couldn't even compare this year's apples with last year's.

"Because we want to ensure government functions like the best-run businesses, we are improving our management information and publishing it transparently to drive up its quality."

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