National Audit Office Press Releases
Printable version E-mail this to a friend

The Government Procurement Card

The National Audit Office has today published a report on central government’s use of the Government Procurement Card to pay for goods and services. The report finds that used appropriately, the Government Procurement Card can be a cost-effective way for government to procure goods and services. However, while controls in five departments examined by the NAO were operating as intended, there is no up to date value-for-money case quantifying the benefits of the cards. There has also been a lack of clear central guidance on when the cards are the most appropriate way to procure goods and services.

Central government spent £322 million using Government Procurement Cards in 2010-11, and £149 million in the first half of 2011-12. There were 1.75 million transactions in 2010-11, and 818,781 transactions in the first half of 2011-12. The majority of transactions were low-value purchases, with an average value of £184 in 2010-11.

Use of the cards varies between departments, both in the amount spent and in the type of goods and services purchased. The Ministry of Defence accounted for around 74 per cent (£237 million) of central government’s total spending using the cards in 2010-11, compared with HM Revenue & Customs, which spent £205,000. Travel and accommodation are the most common categories for which the cards are used across government, comprising 41 per cent of total spending.

Departments’ controls are generally designed in a satisfactory way, and operating as set out in departmental policies, but there are some notable weaknesses. Some departments have inadequate management information and cannot monitor the use of the Government Procurement Card effectively. Central data is incomplete and inconsistent and does not provide an accurate picture of spending across government. There has been a lack of central government oversight of card use which has increased risks to value for money, but the new central policy, which defines minimum standards across government, is an important move towards strengthening controls and ensuring greater consistency.

While departments acknowledge the risks and potential advantages of the card, there is no up-to-date value for money case to substantiate this. Work by the NAO has suggested that the cost of more traditional procurement methods may have fallen; however, using the cards could still provide a potential saving of around 35 per cent, or £5 a transaction.

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said today:

"The Government Procurement Card can be a cost-effective way for central government to buy goods and services. However, the taxpayer needs to have confidence that departmental staff are using it appropriately.

"There is a risk of this confidence, and the reputation of departments, being undermined where there is inconsistency between departments in the controls on the use of the cards and a lack of central guidance."

Notes for Editors

  1. The Government Procurement Card can either be a purchasing card (a physical card issued to an individual or team) or a lodge card (a virtual card which is attached to one contracted supplier for spending on a particular type of item, such as fuel).
  2. The five departments examined by the NAO were: the Department of Health; the Department for Work and Pensions; the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; the Ministry of Defence; and the Ministry of Justice.
  3. There were 23,998 cards in use in central government, as at October 2011. Total procurement spending using Government Procurement Cards was £322 million in 2010-11, 0.75 per cent of total government procurement expenditure.
  4. Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website, which is at www.nao.org.uk. Hard copies can be obtained from The Stationery Office on 0845 702 3474.
  5. The Comptroller and Auditor General, Amyas Morse, is the head of the National Audit Office which employs some 880 staff. He and the NAO are totally independent of Government. He certifies the accounts of all Government departments and a wide range of other public sector bodies; and he has statutory authority to report to Parliament on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which departments and other bodies have used their resources.