Select Committee on Public Administration Fifth Report

Conclusions and recommendations

Decentralising targets

1. We recommend that the Government should produce a white paper with proposals for decentralisation of performance measurement in the main public services, aimed at improving the process by increasing local involvement in target setting. This white paper, which should be published in time to influence the 2004 spending review, should also set out a strategy for reducing the number of all targets (especially precisely quantified targets) which have to be met by service deliverers. The paper should contain a series of options to enhance autonomy on target-setting by those directly involved in delivery of services, and detailed proposals for increasing consultation with them when key national targets are set. These key national targets should be few in number, and designed to secure basic national entitlements. The NAO and the Audit Commission should be involved as much as possible in the new system set out in the white paper. (Paragraph 112)

2. We recommend that the white paper should also contain a strategy for encouraging all providers to involve users more systematically in the setting of targets. This should include systematic monitoring of user satisfaction with public services. (Paragraph 114)

3. We recommend that there should be a shift in emphasis in Government policy from absolute targets to measures of progress in performance. In its white paper on targets, we urge the Government to include plans to promote trend measures showing clearly and graphically whether service providers are making progress, standing still or going in the wrong direction. (Paragraph 124)

4. We recommend that an action plan on local performance measurement should be included in the white paper. This would set out how the Government intends to enhance the skills of local service providers in the setting and monitoring of appropriate measures. This should emphasise measures based on progress and long-term trends rather than absolute targets. (Paragraph 126)

5. The action plan should also explain how the Government intends to ensure that departmental officials have an up-to-date understanding of service delivery, and front line experience (Paragraph 127)

Better reporting

6. We recommend that the system for reporting progress against PSA targets be made more consistent and comprehensive, with detailed reporting requirements to be issued by the Treasury. The reporting guidance should set common reporting categories so that it is clear whether a target has been judged as met, not met, partly met, or if there is insufficient data to make an assessment. For current targets, the guidance might introduce different reporting categories such as those that the Scottish Executive uses: achieved, ongoing, on track, delayed and may not be achieved (Paragraph 129)

7. The guidance should also require the provision of adequate supporting evidence to back up assessments made about target achievement. There should be thorough monitoring of how adequately each individual department has discharged its reporting requirements before reports are released, to ensure that all departments provide relevant performance information for both improvement and accountability purposes. (Paragraph 130)

8. We recommend that the reporting on shared targets should make clear the contribution that each of the responsible departments has made towards achievement of the target. (Paragraph 132)

9. We recommend that the National Audit Office be given the responsibility for validating target assessments as a logical extension of its existing duty to validate the data systems for performance reporting. (Paragraph 135)

10. We recommend that the Government publish an Annual Performance Report on its overall performance that sets out how it has performed against each of its PSA targets, based on the existing performance reporting that departments are required to undertake. The information should be independently validated by the National Audit Office, the Audit Commission and the Office for National Statistics. (Paragraph 138)

11. We recommend that, as part of a wider programme of consultation on target setting, targets in draft form should be referred to their relevant departmental select committee for comment and proposed revision. The Government may also wish to consider devoting a debate specifically to the finalised PSA targets resulting from this process, as an adjunct to the debate that occurs on the biennial Spending Review. (Paragraph 142)

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Prepared 22 July 2003