Accounting for democracy: making sure Parliament, the people and ministers know how and why public money is spent Contents

6Management accounting in Government

The purpose of management information

150.Management information is used by organisations to understand their own activity. Senior managers such as senior civil servants and ministers in the public sector use this management information to take decisions. The Chartered Institute of Management Accounting said in their evidence to us that good management information and accounting consisted of “making relevant information available to decision makers when they need it”.211 Consequently management information varies in content and form. It could take the following forms:

Management information often consists of both performance and financial information.

151.The Chartered Institute for Management Accountants have said that management information typically includes “non-financial information as well as financial [information]”, “a budget or plan with which to compare actual performance”, “a re-forecast or updated estimate of year-end performance” and “variance analysis and exception reporting in relation to the reporting of the performance against the plan”.212

Management Accounts and information in the public sector: a persistent weakness

152.Numerous commentators have suggested that management Accounts have been persistently weak in the public sector. Lord Browne, formerly the lead non-executive director for Government and Chief Executive of BP, told our predecessor committee, the Public Administration Select Committee, that he was shocked when he came into Government by “how much lack of measurement there was of where things were, where you started from and where you were going”.213 His comments were supported by a review conducted by Dr Martin Read for the Treasury.214 Dr Read said that “the poor quality of much of the management information available to Government has been a recurrent theme of independent reports to Government over many years”.215

153.The Government’s own independent auditors, the National Audit Office (NAO), have also frequently commented on the weakness of management information.

154.Sir Ian Cheshire, the Government’s Lead Non-Executive Director, told us that “in my experience it [management information] was unfocused. It did not reflect priorities. If anything it had too much data and not enough information”.219 He described board reporting, before the Treasury reforms, as “a very unwieldy smorgasbord of information”.220

155.The National Audit Office and other commentators have documented the consequences of poor management information in the public sector. For example, the Public Accounts Committee in their report on Transforming Rehabilitation criticised the Ministry of Justice for its lack of reliable data about the programme’s performance, especially for short term offenders.221 The Committee said that without this data the Ministry would be unable to determine whether its reforms were having the intended impact. Furthermore, the NAO have said that the lack of clear, consistent data contributed to the Government’s poor track record in completing major projects successfully.222

156.The C&AG argued in an interview for the Financial Times, that especially in services where Departments delivered through local bodies, a lack of good information made it hard to target austerity. As he said “If you are going to do radical surgery, it would be nice if you knew where the heart was, you are slightly more likely not to stick a knife into it by mistake”.223

157.There is a consensus that management information in the public sector has been poor for a number of years. This relates to costs, forecasting and performance. Management information has often in the past been unfocused and not helpful to senior officials and politicians in making decisions.

158.Poor management information has consequences both for the success of individual policies and the success of any overall fiscal strategy. During a period in which public finances are constrained, it is even more vital that the Government knows what it is spending money on, what effect that has and what impact a cut or a change in spending is likely to have.

Earlier attempts to reform

159.Efforts have been made to improve management information in the public sector since the 1980s. Lord Heseltine, when he was a Minister, began the process with his Management Information System for Ministers (MINIS). He introduced the system into the Department of the Environment in 1980. The system reported on the Department’s activities, performance and finances in a single document.224 Professor Sir Andrew Likierman, commenting at the time, said that MINIS did have a positive effect on the Department of the Environment. However, he commented that other Departments were unlikely to adopt the system, unless the Treasury and Cabinet Office drove change.225

160.The Institute for Government argued that in the mid-1990s, after his appointment as Deputy Prime Minister, Lord Heseltine sought to provide this central stimulus. He ‘pushed for the development of a major public sector benchmarking project that would enable cross agency comparisons of performance. However these efforts were met with opposition from the Treasury and individual agencies and never took off’.226

161.In 1998, the Labour Government announced that Departments would report against Public Service Agreements (PSAs). The Institute for Government summarised the performance of PSAs in a recent report:

PSAs began life with an unambitious agenda, weak leadership and virtually no operating model, but were electrified by the Prime Minister’s desire to grab hold of the public services agenda after the 2001 election [ … ] The regime was refreshed in 2004 in an attempt to ameliorate criticism of top-down targets. In 2007, the move to cross-cutting PSAs was a far more ambitious attempt to reinvent the Government’s performance management framework and [was] supported by many senior politicians and officials.227

In 2010, the then Coalition Government abolished Public Service Agreements. The then Prime Minister, David Cameron, described them as “a system of bureaucratic accountability”.228 He argued that they created bureaucracy, bred inefficiency and focused the public sector upon short term targets at the expense of long term aims.

162.In 2012, Lord Heseltine published a report into stimulating growth in the UK economy. In the report, Lord Heseltine suggested

A single Departmental management information system for Whitehall should be introduced as soon as possible. If done properly, it will be possible not only to cost activities and monitor progress against priorities, but also to provide for much more comprehensive scrutiny and the identification of activity that could be delivered more effectively by the private sector. This is not just a cost cutting exercise. It will reveal areas where important tasks are not being effectively carried out and need more resource.229

Lord Heseltine repeated this view in evidence to PASC in 2012.230

163.The National Audit Office noted that despite these efforts

by the end of the 2010–15 Parliament there was no functioning crossGovernment approach to business planning, no clear set of objectives, no coherent set of performance measures and serious concerns about the quality of data that was available.231

164.Dr Martin Read, in his 2013 review, identified a lack of leadership both within Departments and in the Cabinet Office and Treasury as impediments to improved management information.232 The National Audit Office agreed that there was “a lack of sustained leadership and poor engagement of civil servants” with these initiatives.233

165.The National Audit Office have said that reforms need to last to be successful. They identified that any framework

should be stable and enduring, existing independent[ly] of political priorities–whatever your objectives, there are some fundamentals you will need to allow you to plan and manage effectively, even (or perhaps especially) as you change priorities.234

166.Governments of different complexions have made repeated efforts to reform management information. Most of these efforts have concentrated on obtaining performance information and matching it to financial information. While many of these reforms were positive, as we shall see below, most appear to have been abandoned, often because of the departure of key individuals, lack of consistent leadership and focus from the Treasury and Cabinet Office.

167.The Government must give priority to improving management information. This will mean ensuring the political and administrative leadership of all Departments is committed to good management information. This commitment should be included in the appraisal of the work of Permanent Secretaries and Executive Departmental Board members. The Government should make clear that it expects the Single Departmental Plan framework to last for the long term.

The Financial Management Review


168.This section explains the origins of the current Treasury reforms to management information in government. These encompass the Financial Management Review and the Single Departmental Plans.

169.In 2013, the Treasury published the Financial Management Review.235 The Financial Management Review made recommendations to improve the finance function across Government. Its three main recommendations were to improve management information, linking costs to outputs and outcomes, delegate financial authority to the officials with the “greatest access to relevant information, who are best placed to judge the value of the expenditure and corresponding opportunities and risks” and to create a central leadership for finance with a new Director General of Public Expenditure and Finance.236

170.The first objective is the most relevant to this report. The Financial Management Review made a set of recommendations for improving management information. These included making an investment in management information, creating standards for costing and adopting a common system to record financial information.

171.Following this, in 2015, the Government adopted Single Departmental Plans (SDPs) as a vehicle for this monitoring. John Manzoni, Chief Executive of the Civil Service, announced these plans in July 2015 and said that

we are bringing together efficiency, spending round and activity plans into the SDP. Crucially, since SDPs are completely aligned with the Spending Review, they will enable us to bring together inputs (especially funding) with outputs–thus making clear the trade-offs and choices.237

The Single Departmental Plans were to come in two formats: an internal detailed plan and a published summary document. The Cabinet Office and Treasury led initial discussions with Departments about these plans in the summer of 2015.238

172.Unpublished SDPs were put in place to help focus reporting. Sir Ian Cheshire, the Government’s Lead non-executive director, told us that in Government “the MI issue was not a lack of willingness to provide data; it was a question of what are you [the Department] reporting against”.239 Single Departmental Plans were supposed to focus a Department’s reporting, especially its performance reporting.

173.Several witnesses told us that the unpublished Single Departmental Plans were similar to previous efforts to reform, including Lord Heseltine’s. Sir Ian Cheshire, the Government’s lead non-executive director, told us that

I think his [Lord Heseltine’s] recommendation will end up being implemented by the tracking of the Single Departmental Plans, because the metrics in there very much correlate with what I think he was looking to do.240

174.David Gauke MP, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury told us that “what we [the Government] have in place at the moment builds on MINIS”.241 The National Audit Office told us that unpublished Single Departmental Plans “are expected to link inputs to outcomes on a consistent basis through performance measures”.242

175.The Treasury’s and Cabinet Office’s plans to improve management information are welcome. Reporting against the new unpublished Single Departmental Plans contain many of the features of the MINIS system recommended by Lord Heseltine in his report No Stone Left Unturned (2012). The adoption of a system like MINIS will allow Departments to understand the links between resources and people and outcomes and outputs. To be of real value Single Departmental Plans will need to be used both as a way for Departments to measure their own performance, and to report progress to a wider public audience. Single Departmental Plans have potential but clearly need to be used and published in order to fulfil that potential. The Treasury’s additional commitments through the Financial Management Review to share best practice and train staff in producing management information are also welcome.

Implementation of Single Departmental Plans

176.There is evidence of some improvement in management information since 2012. Sir Ian Cheshire, the Government’s lead non-executive director, told the committee

I would not for a second pretend this [management accounting in the public sector] is perfection but neither do I think it is quite as bad as it was a while back.243

177.However, National Audit Office reports in 2016 still point to significant weaknesses in the management information that Government produces in relation to important programmes. For example, in September 2016, the NAO found in the Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement programme the Government had “no estimate of the total cost of the programme to the UK”.244 In October 2016, the NAO found that the Department of Education had “little information on outcomes for children who are, or have been, in need of services”.245

178.The NAO also reported concerns about optimism bias. The C&AG told us that “they [Departments] do not find having awkward evidence all that desirable” and “ there is a lot of optimism bias in Government, that is to say things are presented as being highly probable, which are in fact only likely to happen if things go really well”.246 Furthermore, the C&AG told us that, in his judgement, Departments focused too much on meeting their annual budget rather than understanding the long-term value of their spending. As he argued, Departments are “still, in my view, largely dominated by controlling against the excess vote”.247

179.The NAO have evaluated the unpublished Single Departmental Plans themselves. They said, whilst the Government “starts from a low base”, the unpublished Single Departmental Plans “represent a clear advance on previous systems”.248 The NAO argued, however, that there are substantial risks to their success

The civil service does not have a strong track record in making changes to its culture and the risks to SDPs, as with other past initiatives, lie in a lack of sustained leadership and poor engagement of civil servants within Departments. Now that the SDPs are agreed between the centre and Departments there is a risk that the leadership focus and momentum to keep improving and embedding them is lost. More work is needed to develop a set of measures that over all areas of the business and clearly link spending and performance. Based on the experience of PSAs, without concerted effort this may not be complete before the end of the Parliament. There is also a risk that Departments fail to take the opportunity of SDPs to change their performance culture and involve all parts of the delivery system, including arm’s-length bodies, resulting in top-down, surface changes only.249

180.The Public Accounts Committee share the NAO’s view. They acknowledge that “Government has made some progress in the way it plans and manages its business”. However they received evidence from the Cabinet Office that as yet budgets are not linked to the teams that deliver objectives in the “majority of cases”.250 The Committee also have said that “there is still a long way to go before either the Government or the taxpayer can see what money has been spent on a given objective and what value has been delivered”.251

181.Even the Government told us that progress was mixed. Sir Ian Cheshire, the Government’s lead non-executive director, told the Committee that management information “varies quite significantly from Department to Department”.252 Julian Kelly from the Treasury told us

My personal experience is there are some Departments that are already quite good at thinking into the medium term and there are some that just have not built up enough of what I think my colleague John Manzoni describes as the muscle, but the discipline of just constantly planning into the medium term. Therefore I do not meet anyone who says this is a bad idea but it is getting really good practice embedded.253

The Chief Secretary told us that one reason not to publish the full unpublished Single Departmental Plan was that they “are a relatively new process and I think we need to wait and see how they operate first before making any significant reforms”.254 We comment in the publication of these plans in the following section of the report.

182.The Institute for Government have been more positive about the implementation of these changes than other commentators. However, they have also commented that

The next phase of the reform should try to connect with Departmental leaders beyond finance directors–that is, permanent secretaries and the wider Departmental leadership teams–to ensure that they have a greater interest in the success of the FMR [Financial Management Review]. This can be achieved by demonstrating how the FMR enables Departments to deliver their core objectives and is more than a ‘nice to have’.255

183.A good management information system links together financial data and performance metrics. Such a system would map spending plans and forecasts, against the priorities of the Department. Such a system would be regularly updated and give a snapshot of the Department’s delivery of value for money, and forecasts for its future delivery of value for money to the taxpayer. Whilst the Government intends to do this, performance on this is varied. Forecasting is unreliable and still has an optimism bias. Some Departments are not planning for the medium term. It is disappointing that there is still a long way to go before either the Government or the taxpayer can see what money has been spent on a given objective and what value has been delivered.

184.The Treasury and Cabinet Office should work together in making sure that Departments use Single Departmental Plans internally. The Government should ensure that all their major decisions are made on the basis of a full understanding of the practically available data. They should also move forward with the other aspects of the Financial Management Review, developing, for example, better information on the costs of activity in the public sector and on realistic forecasting.

185.Management information should be seen as a key function of a Department. It should not be seen as a ‘nice to have’ nor confined to the Finance team. The Treasury and Cabinet Office should ensure that all senior civil servants are aware that it is impossible for them to deliver public services effectively or efficiently without good data linking outcomes to spending and realistic medium term plans.

Public Accountability

Current state of published SDPs

186.In 2016, the Government published summaries of the Single Departmental Plans. These summaries did not include all the information included in the plans. The Treasury told us that

In February 2016 every Department published a summary of their SDP. Each SDP lays out the Department’s objectives, the political commitments it has made, its business-as-usual activity, and headline indicators to demonstrate progress. Data against each of these indicators is being regularly updated with the latest management information. Departments will also report in full on progress against their SDP through their annual reports and Accounts.256

The Treasury said in their evidence that publication of the full plans was not necessary as

this is not what routinely happens or is considered best practice in the private sector. Some data is sensitive or classified, and publication could affect national security. Often, data is used to inform policy development, where decisions have not yet been taken. Other data is commercially sensitive, and could affect ongoing negotiations or the UK economy if released without appropriate context. It is important that management information is approved before publication, which can take time.

The Treasury offered no reason why it was appropriate to compare access to private and public sector management Accounts in this way.

187.The National Audit Office said

The published SDPs do not meet the Government’s stated aim to be “the most transparent Government ever”. The great majority of the detailed SDP content is not included in the public version. Although it is not reasonable to expect the Government to share every detail of its plans and progress–we recognise the need for a ‘safe space’ for ministers to make decisions before options are finalised–we would expect to see greater detail than has been published.257

188.The points made by the National Audit Office are supported by their analysis of the Single Departmental Plans. Seven of the seventeen SDPs do not assign budgets to the Department’s objectives and only 11% of “significant areas” have budgets allocated to them.258

189.The Institute for Government agreed with the NAO. In their recent Whitehall Monitor, the Institute described the Single Departmental Plans as a “step backwards”, criticising in particular the lack of priorities in the published plans.259 The Institute for Government argue that the current published documents “give no sense of priority” and many Departments have too many objectives.260 For example, they say that the Department of Transport listed one hundred priorities and the Institute commented that the published plans contained “little more than a laundry list of nice-to-haves”.261

Arguments in favour of publishing SDPs in full

190.Several of our witnesses argued that Single Departmental Plans should be published. The Public Accounts Committee has also called for the publication of the plans. Our witnesses and other commentators have offered three main reasons for the publication of these documents.

a)The plans would if published enable Parliament to scrutinise the future work of Government Departments, and this appears to be part of their intended purpose. David Gauke MP, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, told us he sees SDPs as a “forward-looking” document against which Parliament can hold the Government to account.262

b)They would, if published, enable Parliament and other commentators to assess and advise about the quality of the Government’s management information. Currently this is impossible without relying on the auditor’s assessment.263

c)If properly constituted, they would enable scrutiny of projects before and during the process rather than at the end, as recommended by Lord O’Donnell during our civil service inquiry.264

191.Several witnesses suggested to us that Parliament should request more information. The C&AG thought Parliament should ask for more management information from Government.265 The OECD noted that whilst no other countries publish their management Accounts, two thirds of countries publish monthly budget statements which include financial information on the same basis as their budgets and some include performance information with that.266 Lord Heseltine told the Public Administration Select Committee in 2012 that he could see no objections to publishing management information”.267

192.To enable better scrutiny, the C&AG recommended that Departments publish quarterly updates on progress against the Single Departmental Plans.268 Craig Mackinlay MP said, from his experience as a local councillor, quarterly updates were provided in local Government against a council’s plans but told us that “we do not seem to be translating that within Parliament”.269

193.In September 2016, the Public Accounts Committee published a report assessing publication of Single Departmental Plans.270 They recommended that:

Departments should publish the same up to date information about performance that they use for monitoring themselves, subject to any national security or similar essential restrictions. There should be regular public reporting of Government’s performance, at least twice yearly.271

194.The PAC concluded that the SDP’s should be published in full. However, the Treasury in its response to the Committee rejected this Committee’s recommendation.272 They said:

the Treasury and Cabinet Office consider further improvements can be made and will promote greater access to information in the refreshed, published Single Departmental Plans (SDPs) by including a schedule of supporting statistics and their frequency. Headline indicators will be updated at least twice a year, or more regularly, when new data becomes available [ … ] The Government considers that, with these improvements, the right balance is struck between transparency of information and allowing Departments a “safe space” to manage their own affairs. The Treasury and Cabinet Office will continue to consider where further improvements can be made in future.273

The Government has committed to publishing new SDPs for all Departments by May 2017, including the new Departments created since June 2016.274Again, though, it is expected that the Government will not publish the full internal documents.

195.Currently the published Single Departmental Plans are not sufficient for accountability purposes. They contain too little detail on either spending or performance. In seven of the seventeen Departments it is unclear how spending is allocated between priorities. Nor is it known at present, how often data will be updated and whether it will be possible for the user to observe progress, through seeing time series for indicators over a period of time. Parliament is unable, therefore, using the current Single Departmental Plans, to use them to hold Government to account.

196.Lord O’Donnell is right to argue that earlier scrutiny of Government projects (during their operation rather than after they have happened) would allow those outside Government to assist in identifying issues and avoiding mistakes. This would require information about milestones, performance and financial data and could easily be published through updates to the Single Departmental Plan. Fuller publication of Single Departmental Plans could assist outside observers in making suggestions to improve them in the future and will assist in embedding a culture of management information within Government.

197.The Treasury and Cabinet Office should work with Departments to ensure that the full Single Departmental Plans are published, subject to necessary omissions on grounds of national security or commercial confidentiality. Departments must, on a quarterly basis, share the full un-redacted Single Departmental Plans with the Comptroller and Auditor General and his staff. Unaudited progress reports against the Single Departmental Plans (with the restrictions above and full access for the National Audit Office) should be published on a quarterly basis (as recommended by the Comptroller and Auditor General) so that Parliament is informed of Departmental progress. These should include commentary on performance and, where required, actions being taken to improve outcomes. It is disappointing that the Treasury have rejected a similar recommendation from the Public Accounts Committee; we urge them to reconsider.

198.The Government should ensure that past performance information published on performance against Single Departmental Plans remains available when new information is published so they can be used as accountability documents in the future, and progress over time can be easily monitored. As with Annual Reports and Accounts, data from the Single Departmental Plans should be available in excel format so that users are able to analyse that data more thoroughly.

Single Departmental Plans and Annual Reports and Accounts

199.The Treasury also told us that the Single Departmental Plan will be used in the future to structure the Annual Report and Accounts. Julian Kelly, Director General of Public Spending and Finance, said that “Increasingly we are trying to make sure that we have a clear link between published Departmental business plans, what we call the Single Departmental Plans, [and] the Accounts in the annual reports”275

200.Currently SDPs do not match in all cases to the published annual reports.

Whilst these priorities overlap, it is clear that they are different.

201.The Government says it intends to integrate management information from Single Departmental Plans with the Annual Reports and Accounts. This is a welcome trend. Parliament requires much of the same information that management in a Department requires. Whilst Parliamentary accountability will always mean that Annual Reports and Accounts need to include more than just management information (for example, statements about the Spending Review and ministerial commitments), it is important that with respect to programmes, policies and the general activity of Departments, that everyone is looking at the same version of the truth.

202.Departments should report against their Single Departmental Plan in their Annual Report and Accounts in a consistent format throughout. Such reporting should provide a complete financial and performance picture of the Department’s activity for the year.

211 IGA19 (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants)

212 IGA19 (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants)

213 Oral evidence taken before PASC, 10 July 2012, Q5 (Lord Browne).

216 National Audit Office, Forecasting in Government to achieve value for money, January 2014, pp.8; 28.

217 National Audit Office, Transforming Government’s contract management, September 2014, pp.10; 13.

218 National Audit Office, Managing business operations: what Government needs to get right, September 2015, p.6.

219 Q5; Lord Browne made similar comments to PASC in 2012, Oral Evidence taken before PASC, 10 July 2012,(Lord Browne).

221 Seventeenth Report from the Public Accounts Committee, Transforming Rehabilitation, Session 2016–17, September 2016.

223 Sarah Neville and Chris Giles Watchdog fears ‘radical surgery’ of cuts, Financial Times, 15 March 2015.

225 A. Likierman, Management information for Ministers: the MINIS system in the Department for the Environment, Public Administration Vol. 60 No. 2, 1982, pp.127–42.

228 David Cameron, PM’s speech on business plans, November 2010.

229 Lord Heseltine, No stone unturned in the search for growth, October 2012, p.72.

230 Oral evidence taken before PASC, 5 December 2012, Q34 (Lord Heseltine).

231 National Audit Office, Government’s management of its performance: Single Departmental Plans,
July 2016, Session 2016–17, HC 872, p.12.

233 National Audit Office, Government’s management of its performance: Single Departmental Plans,
July 2016, Session 2016–17, HC 872, p.17.

234 National Audit Office, Government’s management of its performance: Single Departmental Plans,
July 2016, Session 2016–17, HC 872, p.6.

235 HM Treasury, Financial management review, December 2013.

236 HM Treasury, Financial management review, December 2013, pp.5–6.

238 National Audit Office, Government’s management of its performance: Single Departmental Plans, July 2016, Session 2016–17, HC 872, p.23.

242 IGA07 (National Audit Office)

244 National Audit Office, The Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement programme, Session 2016–17,
HC 626, September 2016, p.9.

245 National Audit Office, Children in need of help or protection, Session 2016–17, HC 723, October 2016, p.8.

246 Qq164; 166 (Sir Amyas Morse)

248 National Audit Office Government’s Management of its performance progress with the single departmental plans, pp.41; 51.

249 National Audit Office Government’s management of its performance progress with the single departmental plans, p.17.

250 Q47 (Sir Amyas Morse and John Manzoni) PAC Performance

251 Twenty Seventh Report from the Public Accounts Committee Managing Government’s spending and performance, Session 2016–17, HC 710, p.5.

256 IGA06 (HM Treasury)

257 National Audit Office, Government’s management of its performance: progress with single departmental plans, Session 2016–17, HC 872, July 2016, p.15.

258 National Audit Office, Government’s management of its performance: progress with single departmental plans, Session 2016–17, HC 872, July 2016, p.40.

259 Institute for Government, Whitehall Monitor, p.62.

260 Institute for Government, Whitehall monitor 2017: the civil service as it faces Brexit, January 2017,

261 Institute for Government, Whitehall monitor 2017: the civil service as it faces Brexit, January 2017,

262 Q320 (David Gauke MP)

263 Q205 (Professor Prowle)

264 Q8 Oral Evidence 8 November 2016, Civil Service Inquiry.

266 IGA21 (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development)

267 Oral evidence taken before PASC, 5 December 2012, Q55 (Lord Heseltine).

269 Q281 (Craig Mackinlay MP)

270 Twenty Seventh Report from the Public Accounts Committee Managing Government’s spending and performance, Session 2016–17, HC 710.

271 Twenty Seventh Report from the Public Accounts Committee Managing Government’s spending and performance, Session 2016–17, HC 710, p.8.

275 Q317 (Julian Kelly)

276 Home Office, Single Departmental Plan, February 2016.

278 Foreign Office, Single Departmental Plan, February 2016.

26 April 2017