Progress on improving government’s planning and spending framework is an ongoing challenge for the Treasury and the Cabinet Office, although some progress has been made since this Committee last reported in 2016. However, we remain concerned that planning and spending are treated as disparate. We found compelling evidence that departments are not incentivised to plan for the longer-term, and they are repeatedly over-optimistic when planning for what they can deliver, by when and for how much. Unless action is taken to correct these issues, the government’s long-standing problems of short-term thinking, sticking plaster funding and cost-shunting will persist, resulting in poorer quality, less sustainable and joined-up services. Ultimately, this means that the needs of the public, who rely on and fund these vital services, can fall through the cracks. There may have been improvements to the departments’ single departmental business plans (SDPs) since 2015 but we are concerned about the variable quality and are particularly disappointed that they refuse to publish them. The publicly available summary-style versions of SDPs do not set out clearly departmental objectives, resources for delivering those objectives, or the targets or success measures taxpayers or Parliament can use to judge performance. Spending Review 2019 will be an important test of the changes the Treasury and the Cabinet Office are making, particularly the extent to which SDPs can realistically provide the baseline for performance, finance and delivery.
Published: 8 February 2019