Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Second Report


Setting of new PSA targets for CSR 2007 period

83. Defra currently owns nine Public Service Agreement (PSA) targets, agreed with the Treasury as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review 2004.[140] New targets will be set as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review 2007, to cover the period 2007-2010.

84. Each year, a large part of the Departmental Report is devoted to reports of progress made in relation to the Department's PSA targets. We have used our previous inquiries into the Departmental Report as an opportunity to examine Defra's performance in relation to its targets.[141] Our past work in this area has shown that, for a variety of reasons, several of the Department's current PSA targets are inappropriate.[142]

85. Public Service Agreement target 1, for example, is the Department's overarching objective "to promote sustainable development across Government and in the UK and internationally".[143] In the 2006 Departmental Report, Defra states that it is "on course" to meet the target, although measurement of progress is complicated and uncertain. Some elements of the target had not yet been assessed or indicators are still in development.[144] One part of the target is measured by 68 indicators and 127 measures, 17 per cent of which show "clear deterioration".[145] It is unclear how the Department forms an overall assessment of progress against the target from this mass of indicators and measures, and then claims to be "on course" when so many indicators are showing deterioration or are still in development. Furthermore, the Department has only limited control over achievement of the target. Success depends on "all Government departments working to identify and manage their own sustainable development impacts both in formulation of policy and operationally".[146] The Departmental Report acknowledges, however, that the "delivery chain" between the actions of Defra and the rest of Government, and positive movements in the indicators of sustainable development, "remains long and complex".[147]

86. When questioned about the Department's current PSA targets, the Permanent Secretary acknowledged they were a "slightly strange" set of PSA targets.[148] She was particularly concerned that the "levers" and spending for some of the targets were not in the hands of the Department.[149] Many aspects of spending relating to PSA target 4 on rural affairs, for example, were not controlled by the Department.[150] The Permanent Secretary wanted the new PSA targets for the upcoming Comprehensive Spending Review period to be improved in two ways: first, "much clearer outcomes" and information about the levers to achieve such outcomes; and, second, a wide consensus that the particular performance indicators are the "right ones".[151]

87. We asked whether we could be provided with copies of draft PSA targets, when available. The Permanent Secretary told us:

    … we would certainly find it valuable to share [draft PSA targets] with the Committee, in whatever form you think appropriate, once they have reached a stage of specificity on which you might want to comment.[152]

88. We believe that several of the Department's current Public Service Agreement (PSA) targets are inappropriate, and we have made similar criticisms in the past few years. Many of the targets are too vague. We recommend that careful consideration be given to the formulation of new PSA targets for the next Comprehensive Spending Review period. The new targets should have much clearer outcomes and performance indicators, and be able to be measured appropriately. We look forward to receiving draft copies of the targets for comment.

140   Summaries of progress against Defra's nine 2004 PSA targets can be found in Defra, Departmental Report 2006, Appendix 2 Back

141   For example, HC (2005-06) 693-I, pp. 15-18 Back

142   For example, HC (2005-06), 693-I, para 45 Back

143   Defra, Departmental Report 2006, p 273 Back

144   Defra, Departmental Report 2006, p 273 Back

145   Ev 8, Q 17 Back

146   Defra, Departmental Report 2006, p 31 Back

147   Defra, Departmental Report 2006, p 31 Back

148   Q 9 Back

149   Q 88 Back

150   Q 88 Back

151   Q 88 Back

152   Q 87 Back

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Prepared 23 February 2007