13 June 2008
Cross-departmental working and 'continual improvement' in public services are critical if the government is to meet its main targets, the chief secretary to the Treasury has said.
Talking to Public Finance on June 11 at a National School of Government conference, 'The challenge of delivery: cross-departmental PSAs', Yvette Cooper said there was no tension between efficiency drives and departments meeting ambitious Public Service Agreement indicators.
'I think they are both about the same thing. We need to make sure all our allocations of money count and we get the best bang for our buck, the best results,' Cooper said.
'We need the continual reform and improvement, not for its own sake, but looking at the way we deliver public services that people want.'
She told delegates that the new phase of streamlined PSAs came with much greater flexibility but also greater responsibility.
'I think that focus on cross-departmental working and also partnership working at a local level is critical and I think it is a greater challenge for us,' she said.
She described PSAs, introduced in 1998, as the first time government had set the main outcomes, and said they had made a very big impact. She talked about a constituent in the late 1990s who had waited two years for a hip operation. 'I don't get those kinds of cases coming to my surgery any more,' she said.
Answering questions, Cooper said the government had consciously made decisions based on long-term outcomes, despite the pressure on politicians to make short-term decisions.
She was keen, she said, to see a 'locally led process' to 'institutionalise ongoing improvement', and also on creating services that could respond much more swiftly to problems.
Last month, the Treasury released further details of a public value efficiency drive, following the Gershon efficiency review. At the time, Cooper said departments' arrangements for buying energy or travel, where bulk might save money, would be looked at.
The Treasury also said it would look at value for money in big IT projects and efficient use of property.
In a speech to a Procurement Solutions conference in London on June 11 under the auspices of the Office of Government Commerce, Treasury minister Angela Eagle said the government wanted to achieve a further £30bn in savings on top of the £23bn delivered over the past three years.
'We also want to continue to improve the way that we procure goods and services. We know that improving that will be crucial to achieving our saving goals, especially looking at collaborative procurement.
'And that means working together to use our combined purchasing power to have better and more efficient and effective solutions,' she said.
The National School of Government conference at the QEII centre in Westminster aimed to explore how public servants could work 'together to meet rising public expectations'.
Speaking at the event, Ray Shostak, head of the Prime Minister's Delivery Unit, said it was quite easy to think that the PSA framework was technocratic, but it was really about the 'people who are out in our communities' and the services for those people.
'What they [PSAs] are, are the aspirations that the government has for those services and, more importantly, for those people,' he said.
Delegates also heard from the director of the Office of Climate Change, Jonathan Brearley, and the director of child wellbeing at the Department for Children, Schools and Families, Anne Jackson, on how departments were working together to meet the PSA indicators.