Select Committee on Public Administration Sixth Report


1. The Committee publishes today the Response of the Government to "On Target", its Report on the measurement culture (appended). This is the next stage in a continuing debate about how best to measure public services in the interests of better performance and greater accountability.

2. The Government is clearly moving in the right direction, but needs to increase the momentum. We are pleased that the review of the PSA targets is addressing our concerns, especially the need to increase the role of local providers in setting targets. We and the Government share common aspirations for the evolution of the PSAs. The Response sets out how much has been done to improve the system over the past few years, something we acknowledge in our Report. We fully recognise, for example, the increased transparency that PSAs have brought to public services.

3. But aspirations are not enough. The inquiry unearthed widespread suspicion and misunderstanding of the Government's targets policy among the people who matter most—those who use and provide services at the 'front line'. We welcome the fact that our Report has prompted a more mature debate about the role and value of targets.

4. The Government has tried to listen to public concerns and has responded by improving and refining the system, but it has not always been able to convince people that it is on the right track. The latest sign of this is the Education and Skills Committee's recent Report on secondary education[1] which says that the policy of centrally-set targets "has now served its purpose", and calls for each school to be allowed to set its own targets, subject to review by local authorities and OFSTED. We urge the Government to respond positively to these recommendations, which contain much that is in line with our thinking, and with the Government's own new, and more locally-based, approach to target-setting for primary schools.[2]

5. We will also be considering how performance measurement can do more for the citizen as a consumer of public services—an area where the Government concedes that "more needs to be done". Early in the New Year we will be taking detailed evidence on the way Government monitors the needs and views of consumers, and asking whether reform is really bringing wider choice. Evidence will be sought from Wendy Thomson of the Prime Minister's Office of Public Services Reform and senior officials from a variety of departments charged with delivering services.

1   Education and Skills Committee, Seventh Report of Session 2002-03, Secondary Education: Pupil Achievement, HC 513, Executive Summary Back

2   Public Administration Select Committee, Fifth Report of Session 2002-03, On Target? Government By Measurement, HC 62, para 93 Back

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Prepared 11 November 2003