|2002 Public Service Agreement target 4: Reduce the gap in productivity between the least well performing quartile of rural areas and the English median by 2006, and improve the accessibility of services for rural people.
42. PSA target 4 (2002) identifies five key services, and targets
"improvements in their accessibility", namely: health,
post 16-year-old education and skills, transport, access to cash
and electronic access to services.
As was the case last year, progress against this PSA target has
"not yet been assessed" and the Departmental Report
again accepts that it is "challenging".
43. We asked Defra officials in oral evidence why
progress against the target had still not been assessed. Defra's
Chief Operating Officer explained there was "an issue over
the availability of data", as it was produced with "a
very considerable time-lag, of up to two years".
He added that Defra was "doing work" to identify other
measures and indicators that could provide data, because "clearly
it is not satisfactory if you can only measure progress after
a period in which you are supposed to have met that target".
He told us:
For my part and I think others, [the time-lag
in obtaining data] would call into question whether or not the
definition of that target
is very useful from a real time point of view, because there is
such a lag that you cannot actually see how far you are making
44. We questioned the credibility of setting a target
in respect of which it was extremely difficult to establish not
only the progress made but also a baseline from which to start
measurement. The Permanent Secretary responded that it was "a
fair cop", although she added that having a target "encourages
us to get the information".
She told us the Department would be re-examining the PSA targets
for the period beyond the current Spending Review and it was necessary
to "do some pretty early thinking of, in some cases, what
are perhaps more sensible measures of those targets".
45. We are extremely disappointed that Defra has
still not been able to assess progress against its PSA target
relating to rural affairs. This is especially unsatisfactory given
the target went 'live' on 1 April 2003. We recommend the Department
start to think nowin advance of the 2007 Spending Reviewof
a more appropriate PSA target relating to rural affairs. It should
ensure that the baseline of, and progress made in achieving, any
new target can be measured appropriately.