Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses(Questions 560-579)

THURSDAY 27 FEBRUARY 2003

PROFESSOR MICHAEL BARBER AND MR NICK MACPHERSON

  560. So when is a target an aspiration and an aspiration a target?
  (Professor Barber) If the Prime Minister sets up an aspiration that is something which the Government will be seeking to achieve, but it is consistent with the PSA targets already set in that area.

  561. Do you deal with aspirations?
  (Professor Barber) We certainly deal with the Home Office on asylum issues.

  562. Broader aspects. If there are aspirations on Health and Education do you deal with those as well?
  (Professor Barber) The whole of delivery is about the achievement of targets. As I have said on a number of occasions earlier the targets are representations of real world outcomes to which the Government aspires, so the answer to your question is yes.

  563. An aspiration is something you would like; a target is something you are going to do hopefully, within reason, and you said there are one or two that you are not going to get. But if you do not reach an aspiration, politically it is not quite as horrendous as missing a target.
  (Professor Barber) In this case there is no real distinction because the two are consistent with each other and I am quite sure that Parliament and indeed the press and the public will hold the Prime Minister to account for what he said.

  564. I think there is a change sometimes where a target becomes an aspiration when it becomes a little bit difficult, such as asylum seekers.
  (Professor Barber) We will see what happens to the data in relation to that, but part of the job of leadership is to set out your aspirations and what you want to get done over a particular time period. That is what is being done in this case.

  565. When you are measuring a target, how many types of measurement do you take? Do you just have one way of looking at it or do you look at it in different ways? I am not thinking of any particular target, I am just thinking generally.
  (Mr Macpherson) It will vary depending on the nature of the target, but the key thing I think, from our point of view, is that we should be very clear from the start what we are measuring. That is why through the autumn we have been publishing the technical notes which underpin each target to explain precisely how progress will be monitored.

  566. That is right. I have some here and they are complete gobbledegook. No disrespect to you, I am sorry. Do you have different measurements when you look at individual targets? Surely you should have a standard measurement for a target.
  (Mr Macpherson) I am disappointed that you find it gobbledegook because the technical notes do set out how we intend to measure progress. What is more, to re-enforce our commitment to good quality measurement we are asking the NAO to audit the data systems which support these targets from April. Perhaps an independent audit of the data system will further re-enforce the credibility of measurement.

  567. Who do they report back to when they have done the audit, you or the Treasury?
  (Mr Macpherson) They will publish their findings.

  568. In the normal way?
  (Mr Macpherson) Yes.

  569. So if something has gone wrong within the department it is going to look a little bit embarrassing, is it not?
  (Mr Macpherson) Yes, that is the benefit of independent audit.

  570. Do we wait until the autumn or longer?
  (Mr Macpherson) They are going to audit the data systems one by one. It is pretty likely that in many cases the data systems are pretty robust otherwise they would not have the national statistics mark on them. My guess is that they will start on those which are not national statistics and then work their way through.

  571. Have they set a timescale on that? How long is it going to take?
  (Mr Macpherson) I do not think they have set a timescale, but clearly they will need to have covered them during the period when those targets will apply so I would expect them to do this over the next three years.

  572. Will it come out on a rolling programme?
  (Mr Macpherson) Yes.

  573. So if they start off doing as you said in the next few months, we should have the first one at the end of the summer.
  (Mr Macpherson) I do not know, but there will be a rolling programme.

  574. Do you have any more targets which are due to come out? Nigel Crisp came to see us and I think he said there were 12 and that has now gone up to 62 and he gave us a paper on that. Do you have any targets which are waiting to come out at the moment? You have gone down to 130, are there others waiting in the wings?
  (Professor Barber) The targets were established in the July 2002 white paper. In the next spending review they will no doubt be reviewed again, but it is certainly not part of our job to change or add to the target regime in the meantime.

Chairman

  575. Is there a target reduction programme going on?
  (Professor Barber) That is what Nick described between 1998 and 2002. We are not changing the targets in the meantime.

  576. He is suggesting there are going to be less again, so there is a programme.
  (Professor Barber) I did not say that. I said they would be reviewed again in the next spending review. I did not say there would be fewer.

Mr Liddell-Grainger

  577. Can I ask you about spidergrams?
  (Professor Barber) Please do, but I am not sure I know anything about them.

  578. The Police Authority chief constables have come up with a thing called a spidergram for all police forces to show whether or not they are hitting targets.
  (Professor Barber) Those are the performance monitors from the police forces.

  579. It is actually the Home Office and it has cost them £70,000. There is a Kevin Bond who is paid £200,000 for a 36-hour week making these things up. Are they to show how the targets have been achieved? What are spidergrams?
  (Professor Barber) It is actually a major step forward in terms of openness and accountability. I referred at the beginning of this session to the importance of each of the public services being held to account and the publication for the first time of data of the performance of police forces in that format is a major step forward. The public can now see how well their police force is doing compared to a family of police forces.


 
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