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Delivering Efficiently – Strengthening the links in public service delivery chains

Few national targets for improving public services can be achieved by central government departments alone. Successful delivery of Whitehall’s targets, set out in Public Service Agreements (PSAs), relies on a complex chain of organisations involving local authorities and health trusts, as well as private, voluntary and community organisations. Government departments should build stronger partnerships with local bodies and come to a better understanding of the challenges they face.

This is the key message of today’s joint report by the National Audit Office and Audit Commission. This study analyses the different ways in which public services are delivered, examines the nature of the links between partners in public service delivery chains, and explores how these can be made more efficient and effective. It recommends that government departments and their delivery partners ask themselves 12 key questions to help them understand their capacity to deliver efficient and effective public services. (See attached Annex.)

The new report draws on a series of joint publications from the Audit Commission and the National Audit Office which analyse national and local aspects of three major PSA targets: supplying affordable housing, promoting bus use, and halting the rise in child obesity. (The last of these reports was prepared with the Healthcare Commission)

Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office, said;

“People today have high expectations of public services. If these expectations are to be satisfied, then both central government and the many other partner organisations needed to deliver the services must work together more closely.

“The relationships between all the partners in the delivery chain must be clarified and managed better. Otherwise, the greater complexity of mechanisms required to deliver improved services might bring with it greater inefficiency and wasted opportunity.”

“Providing local public services, which offer value for money and are tailored to the needs of different communities, is an immensely complex task. It requires central and local government to work closely together and to make the best use of a wide range of other agencies. Our report sets out how better working between Whitehall, which sets the key targets, and the many organisations responsible for their delivery, can be fostered. We particularly emphasise the importance of clarity of purpose and well-defined responsibilities.”

Sir Michael Lyons, Acting Chairman of the Audit Commission

Notes for Editors

  1. This is the fourth joint study on Public Service Agreement (PSA) targets. The first examined the use of buses and light rail. The second examined the building of more affordable homes and the third, produced with the Healthcare Commission, examined child obesity.
  2. Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website at, the Audit Commission website at Hard copies can be obtained from The Stationery Office on 0845 702 3474.
  3. The Comptroller and Auditor General, Sir John Bourn, is the head of the National Audit Office which employs some 800 staff. He and the NAO are totally independent of Government. He certifies the accounts of all Government departments and a wide range of other public sector bodies; and he has statutory authority to report to Parliament on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which departments and other bodies have used their resources.
  4. The Audit Commission is an independent body responsible for ensuring that public money is spent economically, efficiently and effectively, to achieve high quality local services for the public. Our remit covers around 11,000 bodies in England, which between them spend more than £180 billion of public money each year. Our work covers local government, health, housing, community safety and fire and rescue services.
  5. As an independent watchdog, we provide important information on the quality of public services. As a driving force for improvement in those services, we provide practical recommendations and spread best practice. As an independent auditor, we ensure that public services are good value for money and that public money is properly spent.

PN: 20/06