The report from the National Audit Office (NAO), the public spending watchdog, found that Whitehall spends an estimated pounds 300m a year on phone calls. But savings of up to pounds 15m, could be made by following simple guidelines, most of which are now commonplace in the private sector. These included: logging calls; barring calls to certain services and destinations; obtaining itemised bills; checking bills and rental charges; and reviewing the number of extensions.
The NAO said it was 'concerned' to find that departments did not know what savings, if any, they had achieved, since a similar exercise was last conducted four years ago.
Four departments were examined: the Crown Prosecution Service; Agriculture Ministry; Foreign Office and Home Office. The NAO found that the CPS logged calls at only 5 out of its 31 area branches. And, at one office in the Agriculture Ministry, a check of the phone bill had revealed an overspend of pounds 175,000.
While itemised billing is now available on most British Telecom lines and all Mercury lines, the NAO complained of a 'low take up' of the service by the Government. The savings that could be made were illustrated by immigration staff at Dover. After they were told calls were being checked, charges fell by 50 per cent.
Although all departments barred or restricted access to international calls, controls on calls to premium rate services varied. And Civil Service phone bills could be reduced by as much as 30 per cent, said the NAO, if departments also used modern, 'least-cost routing' systems to select the cheapest way of making a call.
Civil servants' failure to check whether extensions are actually needed is also costing huge sums. Last year, the Foreign Office's UK phone bill for its 3,950 staff was pounds 5.1m. However, a study showed that 300 extensions were surplus to requirements and a saving of pounds 110,000 could have been made from their removal alone.