Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-99)



Mr Osborne

  80. Could you turn please to figure 24 on page 39.
  (Mr Chakrabarti) Yes?

  81. These are a series of comments from DFID staff on the importance of Public Service Agreements quoted by the NAO. The one at the bottom says "I would say the PSA was the least known document in DFID". What do you have to say to the member of staff who said that?
  (Mr Chakrabarti) I would say that certainly it was not well known enough because I think this is pretty much what we would say has happened in DFID over the last few years. The PSA was not the key tool driving performance management. That is not to say people could not relate their activities to the PSA. If you look at page 32, panel 16, you will see the second criterion quite clearly shows that in those country strategy papers people could relate their activities to the PSA. What these quotes are showing is clearly that people are not driven by the PSA.

  82. That might be because they were asked to look at the PSA targets on those specific points.
  (Mr Chakrabarti) It may be. I think your basic point though I do not have any quarrel with. Undoubtedly the PSA has not driven performance management in DFID to the extent that we would have liked. That is what we want to change.

  83. How about the member of staff who said "The PSAs are a bit remote to people working on the ground, whereas IDTs are less time bound and more realistic." Would you agree with that member of staff?
  (Mr Chakrabarti) I do.

  84. "More realistic," you agree?
  (Mr Chakrabarti) No, I think essentially the PSA does look very well to the Millennium Development Goals but there has been a problem, clearly, about the short time period in which we are trying to measure performance in the PSA. What we are trying to do with the Treasury is move to a five year timeframe for PSAs so they become much clearer staging posts on the way to the Millennium Development Goals.

  85. How about the member of staff who says "The PSA is irrelevant . . .," would you agree with that member of staff?
  (Mr Chakrabarti) No, I would not agree it was irrelevant but I think it needs to become much more relevant and that is what I said earlier. We need to have a much clearer link between the PSA and individuals like the ones quoted here and their objectives.

  86. I do not mean to get at you or your Department. Like Mr Trickett who has just left, I think that these PSAs, which may or may not be suitable in the health department or the education department, are probably wholly unsuitable in your Department. They have been imposed on you and because you have got to play the Whitehall game you have to go along with it. It does seem to me that your staff share my opinion, would you not agree?
  (Mr Chakrabarti) No. I would say our staff share your opinion about the past PSAs, the first two PSAs.

  87. You have only had two PSAs.
  (Mr Chakrabarti) We have actually designed a third one. We have had a massive exercise in the last few months in thinking through how to design the new PSA which staff have helped to build up through workshops on what the targets should look like. Also we have been putting out a lot of information about how the PSA relates to their individual objectives. We need to follow that up with more of that.

  88. I think it is true that the NAO has found looking at your PSAs, which after all have been governing your Department's activities since 1999—this is paragraph 3.14—when they looked at individual project approval documents, they found that only nine per cent of the project approval documents they looked at were done by reference to the PSAs?
  (Mr Chakrabarti) Most of our project documents started out before the PSAs were invented.

  89. Thank God, they have probably achieved something on the ground rather than from Treasury targets. How many different sets of targets, national and international, govern the work of your Department?
  (Mr Chakrabarti) Essentially the Millennium Development Goals are key international targets.

  90. Those are the UN?
  (Mr Chakrabarti) Yes, and they govern the work of all the donor agencies.

  91. What about the International Development Targets?
  (Mr Chakrabarti) They have been superceded now by the Millennium Development Goals. There is a sort of link through to them but they are now the MDGs.

  92. Are there any EU targets that you have also?
  (Mr Chakrabarti) No. We are focused very much on the Millennium Development Goals, no others.

  93. No World Bank targets?
  (Mr Chakrabarti) No. The EU and the World Bank have all signed up to these same targets.

  94. Then you have got these two sets of PSA targets. It is a huge mass of targets. Is there not a danger that target setting, particularly in such a complex and diffuse policy area such as yours, actually distorts behaviour in a bad way rather than focusing behaviour in a good way?
  (Mr Chakrabarti) If we design PSAs badly, yes. The NAO report quite rightly points out the second PSA was a lot better in terms of the design, in terms of being more specific, more measurable, more achievable, more timed, relevant as well. In that sense I think we are improving but clearly we have not got there yet and the next PSA, we are trying to map it much more on to staff objectives, the structure of the organisation so it does provide a proper incentive framework.

  95. Figure 10 in this Report which is on page 24 says that whereas with your first PSA 33 per cent of the measures were attributable, according to the governance of good practice criteria, the second set only nine per cent were attributable.
  (Mr Chakrabarti) Yes.

  96. So there has not been an improvement in that respect.
  (Mr Chakrabarti) No. I perfectly accept that. I think in the case of attribution it has got worse between the two PSAs and in the next PSA we need to try and improve it. I draw your attention to the beginning of paragraph 2.12 where again the NAO say the design overall has improved.

  97. What about "timely," it has dropped from 50 per cent to 27 per cent?
  (Mr Chakrabarti) Yes, well I think in the next generation of PSAs clearly we have got to get it better timed.

  98. Or "comparable" that has dropped also, has it not, in that document?
  (Mr Chakrabarti) Yes, if you look at panel 11, the next panel, "Proportion of targets ... which meet the SMART criteria" which is generally accepted as a way of looking at whether performance management framework is properly designed, I think overall we are getting slightly better between the two PSAs.

  99. Are you getting better at playing the Whitehall game or do you think your actual work on the ground is improving?
  (Mr Chakrabarti) I think our actual work on the ground is improving. I have been away for six years so coming back I can see this Department is a lot better than it was. This is not a game, this is very serious stuff for us in terms of how we drive performance.

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