Whitehall surprises by meeting ambitious PSAs

11 May 00
Most Whitehall departments have delivered on the myriad targets set out in the Public Service Agreements, despite the fact that Treasury Chief secretary Andrew Smith believed them to be too complicated.

12 May 2000

Giving evidence to the Treasury select committee this week, Smith said that 90% of the targets with yearly deadlines had been met. No one had been sanctioned for failing on the remaining 'relatively minor' ones, he added, but the government remained committed to the option of penalties for poor performance.

In April, the chief secretary branded the first round of PSAs over-ambitious. He claimed many of the targets, which were initially introduced to measure and improve the performance of departments, were unachievable but said the Treasury had learned from the experience.

Speaking about the revised PSAs on May 10, Smith told the House of Commons committee that lessons had been learned and the government remained determined to root out poor performance. He said the ultimate sanction for civil servants who did not deliver was the sack.

There were more than 600 targets in the first tranche. Smith and his team intend to relaunch a slimmed-down set of agreements 'by July' with an average of ten per department instead of the current 30.

Answering questions on public expenditure, Smith defended the government's Spending Review. 'Departments very much value the three-year plan because it gives them incentives to make efficiency savings which they can carry forward to the next year,' he said.

There would be no return to the annual spending round 'fix and fudge' of previous governments, Smith promised.

He denied the government constantly revised the review by allocating extra resources to health and education. 'We keep to the fiscal rules, but increased funding is a matter of political judgement and has enabled us to address some serious problems with extra funding,' he said.


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