1. This report examines the current policy of government
by measurement. Our inquiry has concentrated in particular on
the performance targets now set for public services. We have tried
to assess how well targets meet the Government's objectives, and
have considered some proposals for reform.
2. We start from a number of basic assumptions:
- That the public wants and expects sustained improvements
in the delivery of public services, which is also a Government
- That service providers in receipt of public funds
ought to be publicly accountable for their performance; and
- That setting targets can be one means of stimulating
better performance by those who deliver services.
3. We recognise that there is much more to the operation
of public services than targets. But they have become a talisman
in the debate on public service reform, and we are keen to ensure
that they support and do not hinder that reform.
4. The Government has a number of different approaches
to gauging service performance. As an aid to clarity, we set out
in Box A definitions of the most common features of the measurement
The Language of the Measurement CultureA Glossary
Inputs: the resources used by an organisation.
Outputs: the services, goods or products provided by the organisation with the inputs.
Outcomes: the benefits or value generated by the organisation's activities.
Performance indicators (PIs): quantifiable measures used to monitor performance and report on it to the public.
Management information, which usually includes both numerical and non-numerical ways of monitoring and understanding performance.
Performance management, which is used in a wide variety of ways and usually at least includes:
allocating them to individuals or teams; and
Targets: usually desired or promised levels of performance based on performance indicators. They may specify a minimum level of performance, or define aspirations for improvement.
League tables: intended to enable comparisons of performance between different service providers to be made.
Public Service Agreements: (PSAs), first introduced in the 1998 Comprehensive Spending Review as an integral part of the Government's spending plans. Each major department has a PSA, setting out the department's objectives and the targets for achieving these.
Service Delivery Agreements: (SDAs), introduced in the 2000 Spending Review, set out lower level output targets and milestones underpinning delivery of the PSA.
Standards: may be used for a variety of purposes, including indicating to the public the minimum standard of service they can expect from a public body, or to a service provider the standard which should be achieved (and against which they may be assessed for compliance). Targets can be based upon standardsfor example to achieve a minimum standard consistently, or to improve over time so that the standard is achieved.
Benchmark: normally involves a detailed analysis of comparative performance to help identify what underlies differences between two similar bodies.
5. This report examines the role of targets across the public
services, but much of our evidence relates to targets set in health,
education, local government and the police and criminal justice
system. We refer often to the system of public service agreements
(PSAs), concluded between the Treasury and other departments,
and their influence at all levels of public service. (This Report
covers some of the same ground as a 1999 Treasury Select Committee
report on PSAs). We
touch on performance league tables, another prominent feature
of the measurement culture. We also identify an increasingly important
role for benchmarking in the improvement of services.
Our inquiry and this
6. This has been a comprehensive inquiry. We had 11 evidence sessions
with 39 witnesses, and received 63 memoranda. We also took evidence
on two visits, one to Bristol on 9 and 10 December 2002 and one
to Canada (Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto) from 8 to 13 June 2003.
We are grateful to all those who have given evidence.
7. We are particularly grateful to our specialist advisers: Professor
Richard Rose of the University of Strathclyde, Professor Colin
Talbot of the University of Nottingham, Tony Travers, Director
of the Greater London Group, London School of Economics and Sir
Nicholas Monck, formerly Permanent Secretary at the Department
of Employment. They have made a major contribution to the inquiry,
as has Pauline Ngan, who prepared the annex on the Government's
achievements against targets.
8. The first part of this Report largely describes the measurement
culture as seen from Whitehall and Westminster. We outline, first,
the Government's aspirations for targets and league tables. The
second part of the report examines the landscape from closer to
the 'front line' where most services are delivered.
The two cultures of
public service reform
9. There seem to be two cultures at work in the Government's approach
to public service reform. The first approach emphasises capacity-building
in organisations, with attention to leadership and management
issues. As such, the focus is on the organic ingredients of durable
change and improvement. This is a central task for the Prime Minister's
Office of Public Services Reform, which has responsibility for
"working with departments to embed reform and identify best
practice". The second approach is typified by targets, its
time frame is shorter and its techniques are more mechanistic.
Among other things, the Prime Minister's Delivery Unit "assesses
and supports delivery in each of the departments, in particular,
ensuring that there is a Delivery Plan in use for each target".
Both have their place, but it is important that the former is
not crowded out by the latter. Durable capacity-building is the
key to public service improvement. This means good leadership
and effective management. With this in place, target-setting and
other performance measures will form a natural part of an organisation's
business planning. This requires a whole-system approach to change
and improvement, engaging the knowledge and commitment of all
those who work in an organisation.
The Government's five
aspirations for the measurement culture
10. In seeking to assess the measurement culture, we believe it
is useful first to set out what the Government is trying to achieve
with targets and tables, and to examine what benefits they might
bring. We take as our main text a recent Government statement
on the issue, a joint memorandum to this Committee from the Treasury
and the Delivery Unit of the Cabinet Office.
In the context of a discussion of PSAs, this asks the question
"Why set targets?" and answers by setting out the key
aspirations. We now examine each of these statements of Government
aspirations in turn, using evidence given to our inquiry to explore
"Targets provide a clear statement of what the Government is trying to achieve. They set out the Government's aims and priorities for improving public services and the specific results Government is aiming to deliver. Targets can also be used to set standards to achieve greater equity".
11. In 1998 the Government set out its model of an effective target,
one that would: "form the heart of the PSA. They are, wherever
possible, 'SMART'specific, measurable, achievable, relevant
and timed". In
the view of the Government, such targets can help ministers and
others give a lead, providing a clear signal to those who deliver
services. The former Permanent Secretary at DfEE, Sir Michael
Bichard, gave us a vivid description of the logic of targets as
seen from Whitehall:
"The point about targets
is that you are never going
to have enough money. I used to say to my staff 'It is very unlikely
I will ever get up in front of you and you say 'Fair cop, guv,
we have got far too much money we do not know what to do with
it' It is always going to be 'We have not got enough money'. You
have to use that resource as well as you possibly can
are a way of making sure that people will focus their energy on
the things which you think generally are the priorities otherwise
everyone has got their own view about what they should be doing".
12. This describes well how central government can use targets
to communicate priorities and give direction in a way that makes
the most of the commitment and dedication of public servants.
The word 'focus' was used repeatedly in evidence to us on the
role of targets. This also involves something else; the fact that
among the Government's most important arguments for targets is
the need to ensure equity in the provision of public services.
Targets are one sign of the Government's belief there is a set
of common standards and entitlements which must be met, a form
of guarantee that there is fairness in the provision of publicly
funded services, wherever they are provided and whoever is receiving
|"Targets provide a clear sense of direction and ambition. The aim, objectives and targets in each PSA provide a clear statement around which departments can mobilize their resources. This helps in business planning and communicating a clear message to staff and to the various public bodies which contribute to delivering each department's programme".
13. This expresses the importance of planning, motivation and
communication in public services. We heard much evidence about
the effect of targets on motivation, for good or ill. There is
no doubt that targeting can at times lead to a clarity about aims
which inspires real commitment. The Chief Constable of Thames
Valley Police, Mr Peter Neyroud, told us how the targets attached
to the campaign to cut street crime helped to make his force work
effectively towards their goal:
"From a Thames Valley perspective, we had a high level of
robbery and rising, which clearly needed sorting out. Actually
energising folk into reducing robbery this year has completely
energised the organisation over this last eight, nine months.
There are examples where a target, which is something which people
firmly believe is something they should be doing
much better results than you were expecting".
14. This combination of a clear national focus with 'something
which people firmly believe
they should be doing' appears
to have achieved the central aim of improving the situation on
the streets, while winning the support of those who police them.
15. Targets require a starting point as well as a goal. Without
knowing where things stand at present, there is no way of determining
whether a target offers an organisation an easy goal, a challenge,
or a target as remote as the moon. In order to monitor progress,
it is necessary to have a benchmark, agreed by all, showing how
an organisation is performing here and now. When a number of schools
or hospitals are benchmarked at the same time, the results can
be compared. This helps in planning, and should enable service
providers to be motivated to achieve their goals.
"Targets provide a focus on delivering results. By starting from the outcome Government is trying to achieve, the targets encourage departments to think creatively about how their activities and policies contribute to delivering those results. They also encourage departments to look across boundaries to build partnerships with those they need to work with to be successful".
16. Targeting shifts attention from the classic Treasury concerns
of inputs (money and personnel) to outputs and outcomes. Outputs
are goods and services delivered to individuals, households, businesses
and communities, for example, patients having operations or students
passing examinations. Outcomes are conditions in society, like
the number of ex-prisoners getting jobs after release, patients
being successfully treated, or children being able to read. Targets
can be an important symbol of the need for change, helping to
transform cultures; an example is the well-known target for putting
100% of government services online by 2005, which, it has been
argued, helped to encourage a more active approach to the issue
by departments. By
concentrating on outcomes rather than process, agencies can be
encouraged to work jointly to produce results. A cohesive approach
was now the norm in the Prison Service, its then Director General,
Martin Narey, told us:
"I spend a lot of time now with colleagues in the departments
of Health, Education, Work and Pensions, working together on targets
and our targets on getting prisoners into jobs, for example, were
constructed in consultation with Jobcentre Plus and involve and
depend on a heavy commitment from them to having job surgeries
in prisons and so forth".
"Targets provide a basis for monitoring what is and isn't working. Being clear what you are aiming to achieve, and tracking progress, allows you to see if what you are doing is working. If it is, you can reward that success; if it isn't, you can do something about it".
17. Monitoring has two aspects. One is about keeping a check on
the effectiveness, or otherwise, of performance. There may be
a punitive element, with failing services at risk of closure or
18. But monitoring is also about something positive: the chance
to identify and learn from success. For example, benchmarking
with a group of similar bodies provides a sound basis for monitoring
progress and seeing which service deliverers are working well.
As Chief Education Officer in Birmingham, one of our witnesses,
Professor Tim Brighouse, used comparisons between the performance
of different schools as a way of driving up standards:
"You are trying to energise but not simply energise from
hoorah, hoorah, but
by helping them to see other people's
practice and when they see other people's practice there is no
stopping them. They then want to move forward".
19. Tracking and monitoring of progress against targets are helpful
to ensure improvements are being effective and to identify potential
difficulties. One crucial point emerges from our evidence; there
is an important distinction between performance information used
internally, to support management and aid learning, and information
put into the public domain to show how well services are performing.
The quality of both needs to be high, but what is appropriate
for one may not be appropriate for the other.
20. The key role of leadership and intelligence in making the
most of performance information is well illustrated by the case
of the high-performing Staffordshire Ambulance Service, which
has a list of 96 measures, monitored each day. What is important
is that these are used internally as management information, and
they appear to be understood as such. In this way, they are similar
to management information in the private sector, used to track
progress and inform discussion. The results of such internal sharing
of information appear to have been impressive. But 96 public measures
would have been indigestible and impossible to interpret.
21. We heard a great deal of evidence about the importance of
making intelligent use of targets. Many of our witnesses said
that information about performance against targets could help
to provide useful pointers to the strengths and weaknesses of
services. In order to ensure this, targets should be relevant
and meaningful to those asked to deliver them. The Audit Commission
"What makes a target 'good' is not just the way a target
is expressedit's about the way it was derived, the extent
to which service users were involved in its development, the extent
to which it helps to achieve policy objectives, the extent to
which it has the support of the staff whose efforts will achieve
it, the quality of the data used to measure its achievement, and
the clarity and transparency of its definition".
22. From another perspective, Professor Alison Kitson of the Royal
College of Nursing stressed the importance of dialogue on targets
between the centre and local deliverers:
"It is about ownership, it is about interpretation and understanding
of the relevance and impact of the target to the people who are
providing the business. It is that dialogue, that constant iteration
between the people who are setting targets and the people who
are having to deliver them that improves the quality of them".
23. Comparing service providers offers an opportunity to promote
better practices nationwide. Learning can take place through the
encouragement of 'horizontal' dialogues between peers: for example
head teachers, hospital managers, and police, which already occur
in professional associations. By listening to horizontal discussions,
policy-makers and target-setters can learn about what does and
does not work on the ground. Familiarity with differences in context
will avoid the naive assumption that a league leader's practice
can quickly be applied in all parts of the country and in widely
|"Targets provide better public accountability. Government is committed to regular public reporting of progress against targets. Targets are meant to be stretching. So not all targets can be hit. But everyone can see what progress is being made".
24. Accountability comes in many forms. Good managers, in the
public or private sector, can make effective internal use of performance
information, including achievement against targets, to find out
where problems are arising or successes are being achieved. This
is to be warmly welcomed, because internally it provides a good
basis for intelligent management of people.
25. Reporting progress, or lack of it, is also an important element
in public accountability. In recent years, governments have provided
an increasing amount of information on public service performance,
the latest example being access to data about PSAs via a single
webpage. This is
a positive development. Benchmarking the starting point provides
a baseline for judging whether progress is being made. As we have
indicated, we see this as central to good public services, and
we had many examples of the increasing readiness of those involved
in public service to make themselves accountable in this way.
The Audit Commission told us:
"Many professionals nowadays recognise, and indeed
welcome, public scrutiny of their role, as long as this is fair
and objective. Using targets to open up the world of the 'expert'
for public examination is an important part of accountability".
26. The view from a former senior departmental official, Sir Michael
Bichard, was robustly in favour of this approach:
"I think they [league tables]do impose some peer pressure
but they do enable also parents to ask questions
who are running public services have got huge amounts of power
and huge amounts of information. This is just a way of encouraging
them to share some of that with the clients and I do not think
that is unreasonable".
27. In a previous report,
this Committee has emphasised this need for a sharing of power,
a professionalism which respects accountability, and an accountability
which respects professionalism. This principle, we believe, should
be central to the practice of government by measurement. In the
next Chapter, we assess whether it is happening like that.
1 based partly on Audit Commission submission PST 31A Back
Seventh Report 1998-99 HC 378 Back
PST 60 Back
PST 60 Back
'Public Services for the Future: Modernisation, Reform, Accountability'
Cm 4181, 1998 Back
Q 126 Back
Q 751 Back
PST 60 and PST 62 Back
Q 728 Back
Q 367 Back
PST 31 Back
Q 753 Back
PST 31 Back
Q 136 Back
'Making Government Work' Seventh Report 2000-01 HC 94 Back