This report assesses the measurement culture, an
increasingly important feature of public services over the past
twenty years. Such measurement has become especially important
since the first Comprehensive Spending Review and the original
publication of the Public Service Agreements (PSAs) in 1998. The
Report concentrates in particular on performance targets, including
the PSAs, and league tables.
The Report recognises that every organisation needs
to have a means for measuring its own performance internally and
in comparison with others, if it is to learn, develop and motivate
its staff. None of our witnesses seriously advocated that performance
measurement should be swept away, and we recognise that much has
been achieved by means of it. The increase in accountability and
transparency which targets have brought with them has been valuable.
Taxpayers and users of public services have a right to know how
well their services are being delivered and who is accountable
for them. We also acknowledge that where necessary the system
has been adapted to changing circumstances.
The Government's five aspirations for its targets
are that they should provide:
- a clear statement of what the Government is trying
- a clear sense of direction and ambition;
- a focus on delivering results;
- a basis for what is and is not working; and
- better accountability.
What we found, however, is that these very laudable
aims are in many cases not being fulfilled nor widely recognised
as such by those on the front line whose job it is to deliver
them. This is not least because of the lack of proper integration
between the building of an organisation's capacity through what
we call 'the performance culture' and tracking quantitative achievement
in the public services through the 'measurement culture'. The
result has been tension between those charged with centralised
responsibility and those who are responsible for dispersed delivery
of public services.
We therefore make a number of recommendations which
propose that the Government comes forward with a White Paper on
targets in good time for the Spending Review 2004. This would
better integrate the performance and measurement cultures by:
- ensuring greater local autonomy to construct
more meaningful and relevant targets, and making sure they are
as few as possible, and focus on key outcomes;
- widening the targets consultation process to
involve professionals, service users and, as part of the Spending
Review process, select committees and Parliament; and
- reforming the way in which targets are set, to
move away from a simplistic hit or miss approach towards measures
of progress which will enable better and more intelligent comparisons
by managers and users alike.
We believe all this should be underpinned by:
- common reporting standards on PSA targets;
- independent assessment by the National Audit
Office (NAO) of whether and how far targets have been met;
- annual reporting on performance by Government
on the model of the Scottish Executive with the information independently
validated by the NAO, National Statistics and the Audit Commission
as appropriate; and
- an action plan to enhance performance management
skills locally and at the centre.
Inevitably such reforms have implications for greater,
decentralised, political accountability which will need to be
faced up to if the 'new localism', recently proclaimed by the
Government, is to become a reality. We also call for a more mature
political debate about the measurement culture, based on a better
understanding of targets as tools to improve performance.