Examination of Witnesses(Questions 520-539)|
THURSDAY 27 FEBRUARY 2003
520. You were reported in the Independent
on 9 January as having said that the Government had never set
a bad target.
(Professor Barber) I wonder where the Independent
got that from. They certainly did not speak to me about it.
521. You never said that to Mr Grice who wrote
the article. But you would agree that the Government has set bad
(Professor Barber) What I agreed with at the beginning
was that it is perfectly possible to set bad targets and I have
given you a couple of examples of targets where the first one
was a bad target and the second was quite good but has been improved.
522. The first one was set by the Government.
(Mr Macpherson) I think we are in the business of
continuous improvement and I think that bad/good is an interesting
distinction, but clearly we are seeking to improve targets over
523. Could you say more about this business
of some circumstances resulting in perverse outcomes? Can you
give us some examples of that?
(Mr Macpherson) There is an anecdotal story about
the local authority which set a target of increasing the amount
of recyclable waste and this just resulted in more recyclable
waste being produced rather than an increase in waste being recycled.
You do come across these from time to time and the key thing is
to learn from them and to ensure that you can improve them. I
think that has been our experience.
524. Are there any examples of that in central
government where targets have had any perverse outcomes?
(Mr Macpherson) None come readily to mind.
(Professor Barber) Can I make a different point but
which is directly related to your question? When a target is set
there will always be people who predict that they will have perverse
outcomes and it is important to monitor those things. This time
last year when the Government began its focus on street crime
there were a number of people quoted as saying that they would
be able to reduce street crime but burglary and car crime would
be adversely affected by the focus on street crime. Actually,
if you look at what has happened in the street crime areas, burglary
and car crime have fallen at least as fastif not fasterin
those areas than in other areas.
525. There can be unexpected beneficial outcomes
(Professor Barber) Yes. It is important to check because
around any given target there are a set of urban myths which need
to be checked up on and exploded where possible.
526. Others have given us evidence on that as
well. In outlining your overall framework and philosophy of targetry
you said that there should be rewards for those who succeed, assistance
for those who struggle and consequences for under-performers.
I wonder how it is you decide with those latter two categories
when you give someone a hand-up, when you give them a hand-out
and when you give them a slap. How do you actually decide that?
(Professor Barber) Obviously those decisions involve
a great deal of detailed knowledge and need to be taken within
the given service. It is not a decision for the Delivery Unit,
but if you want an answer in general about how those questions
should be approached I can give you one. The critical things to
look at are the bench marking data, how well does this given unit
compare not just to the service in general but other units like
it. If you look at a hospital or a school and it appears to be
under-performing, you look at much more than just the average
performance because there might be major challenges in that particular
locality, so you want to compare it to other units in similar
circumstances. You would also want more than just the data. You
would want some kind of inspection evidence or on the ground feedback.
It is very clear that once you have looked at the data and the
inspection evidence you need to go the place and get inside it.
The people inside it often know that is a failing, struggling
organisation so you need to use a variety of sources of evidence:
bench marking data, inspection evidence and then your own direct
527. One of the feelings that has come out of
this inquiry is that sometimes there is an assumption that in
the use of targetswhich has been brought into government
from the private sector where it started off as a method of managementthere
is a central discontinuity of expectation when you are using targets.
In business they set challenging, ambitious targets and they do
not expect to meet them. In politics if you set challenging and
ambitious targets and they are not met, you then get a hammering
because that is what politics is all about. Therefore, the sorts
of targets, the high profile public targets that are set in government
cannot really be challenging and ambitious because you have to
meet them all and if you do not you will get a hammering. Is that
a tension that pervades your work?
(Mr Macpherson) I am ever hopeful that the quality
of debate on targets can improve and I think it has. Two or three
years ago no-one was talking about targets. Now, through the excellent
work of your Committee and others we are actually having a really
good open discussion about the sort of impact they can have. I
very much agree with a lot of your witnesses from business, that
if we had a system where every single target was achieved I would
actually think that maybe the Treasury was not doing its job and
we would need a bit more stretch in the system. Although I would
never try to estimate what is a sensible rate of success across
government, I do think we need to take this into account. It is
very striking that in relation to a number of the best targets
where departments have just fallen short of achieving them there
has been huge success. Michael mentioned literacy and numeracy
where there has been real success.
528. True, but ministers lost their jobs over
(Mr Macpherson) I do not think that is quite true.
I hope that over time people will realise that these are designed
to be achievable but also to provide a bit of stretch and ambition
and that it is perfectly respectable to fail to hit a target so
long as you are bringing about real change in that service and
producing a real change in outcomes.
(Professor Barber) It was for precisely those reasons
that I emphasised at the beginning that targets were part of a
system that is driving improvement. In the case of where you just
fall short of a target but have driven a great deal of improvement,
the target has played its part in that being brought about. That
is a very important part of the system. Clearly the language and
the debate around targetsas Nick saysneed to be
refined and developed, and I think that is occurring.
529. I think both Sir Sydney and Kevin have
probably tried to say to you in different ways that although you
are a kind of technocrat and target-setting is a technocratic
exercise, politics keeps intruding. That is the indispensable
context in which you are working. Although you chose your form
of words very carefully, Michael, describing the waiting list
to waiting times shift, that was politics. Part of a mature debate
is to recognise that.
(Professor Barber) Ultimately all the targets in the
PSA white paper are decided by the Prime Minister, the Chancellor
and the Government, so in that sense they are political. They
are based on advice and analysis produced by the Treasury with
some support from us. In the end they are a programme of targets
established by the Government for the Government.
530. Yes, and when these red lights start flashing,
they are political lights that are flashing.
(Professor Barber) Yes, but bear in mind the commitment
of the Government to improve the public services, so it is not
just about politics, the Government knows that the citizens of
the country want to see the public services improving.
531. Can I begin with a few organisational questions
about the Delivery Unit. When you started off you had a staff
of 19 full-time staff. Is that correct?
(Professor Barber) When we started off on day one
there were literally a hand-full of people. I am not sure when
we passed 19 but it was probably in the autumn of 2001 but I would
not like to say exactly.
532. By 2002 there were certainly 19 full-time
staff within the dept.
(Professor Barber) That is fine.
533. How many do you have today?
(Professor Barber) We have a budget that enables us
to have around 40 staff. I think at the last count there were
34 staff working for us. Since 2002 we have had an expanded remit
that I described to you previously.
534. Are there any plans to take on more staff?
(Professor Barber) On the contrary. My ambition is
to do the job with as few staff as I can possibly manage with.
We are one of the smallestif not the smallestof
the central units and I would like it to stay that way.
535. I am not wishing to make you redundant
in any way by this question, but some would ask why do the departments
not run their own target setting and checking?
(Professor Barber) It is a collaborative venture.
The Delivery Unit could not do its work unless it had a good working
relationship with the departments and one of the things I am most
proud of is that as a result of the efforts of my staff we do
have excellent working relationships with all the departments
we work with. We are working with the departments and tracking
data, setting the targets, solving the problems. So they are involved
in that; it is a collaboration. What we bring is a professional
expertise in delivery and of course the consistency that comes
from having the Prime Minister and, through Nick and his people,
the Chancellor interested in pursuit of these objectives over
a period of time.
536. Both of you have made mention of tracking
progress and so on. We are going to have tracking by the end of
March in every department in relation to the PSA targets. Is that
(Mr Macpherson) It is on track. We already have a
system whereby departments report twice a yearonce in the
spring in the departmental report and again in the autumnon
how they are getting on. What we are moving toand I think
it will be in April rather than Marchis a system to make
it easier for everybody to find out how the Government is doing
across the board by having web-based reporting. You will be able
to go into the Treasury web-site and see what is going on in relation
to all the PSA's.
537. So you have missed the target?
(Mr Macpherson) No.
538. Several departments have not produced their
autumn performance reports. Let us put it this way, they certainly
did not produce them in the autumn.
(Mr Macpherson) It is an interesting question when
the autumn ends.
539. Before Christmas, I think. That is a splendid
bit of Treasury speak.
(Mr Macpherson) My understanding is that all but the
Foreign and Commonwealth Office have produced their autumn reports.
I am sure the FCO have very good reasons for not doing so. This
was the first time they were required to do it so I would certainly
be looking towards a slightly better performance next year.