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Joining Up to Improve Public Services

It is important that organisations work well together and that departments tackle the barriers to joint working so that long lasting improvements are made to the quality of services that the public receive, Sir John Bourn, the Head of the NAO, reported to Parliament today.

The report evaluates the achievements of 5 initiatives and highlights their good practice: the Rough Sleepers Unit, Sure Start, Early Years Development and Childcare Partnerships, Business Link Partnerships and British Trade International.

By drawing on these case studies the Report identifies a number of risks that departments and their partners need to manage carefully to ensure that joint working initiatives produce benefits:

  • removing barriers to joint working by providing incentives for organisations to work together because their practices can reinforce their own objectives rather than joining up;
  • avoiding excluding groups of clients, for example those on low incomes or who work shifts, by using consultation and research to assess the full range of clients’ requirements;
  • informing intended beneficiaries of the services available by publicising and marketing services to ensure that the public are aware of the support available to them and how to access it;
  • ensuring benefits are sustainable by ensuring that the new methods of working become an integral part of departments’ and local agencies’ normal day to day working;
  • measuring performance to assess whether the initiatives are achieving their intended benefits and to take action to address shortfalls in performance;
  • assessing cost effectiveness It is too early to say whether joint working initiatives have been cost effective and it is important that departments carry out detailed assessments of the cost effectiveness of different forms of joint working, including their productivity; whether improvements are sustainable; and the contribution of different partners; and
  • promoting accountability so that there are reliable mechanisms for reporting expenditure and performance to those funding an initiative and to Parliament; and so that citizens have a means of redress where the quality of services is poor.

Following from this assessment, the report suggests key questions for departments to consider to ensure that initiatives achieve the intended benefits by successful joint working and manage the associated risks.

To help achieve this the NAO recommend that the Cabinet Office build on their existing work to provide an increased focus in realising the potential to improve public services by producing and disseminating concise but comprehensive guidance on good practice and on which forms of joint working work best in which circumstances so that new partnerships do not reinvent the wheel. The guidance should be made widely available to all organisations.

Notes for Editors

The achievements of the 5 joint working initiatives.

  1. Rough Sleepers - The number of people counted as sleeping rough has reduced by 62 per cent from 1,850 in June 1998 to 700 in June 2001.
  2. Early Years Development and Childcare Partnerships - free part-time nursery places are available for 4 year olds and over 50 % of 3 year olds; and 140,000 new childcare places have been created.
  3. Business Link partnerships – There is evidence that businesses assisted by Business Link partnerships have higher productivity and profitability than those of non-assisted businesses.
  4. Feedback from parents receiving Sure Start services indicates that the programme is making a difference. But it is too early to produce evidence of measurable change in the long term outcomes set out in its targets.
  5. British Trade International’s customer satisfaction ratings have risen, and use of web-based information by customers has doubled since 30 different sources of information were rationalised into a single site.

Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website at Hard copies can be obtained from The Stationery Office on 0845 702 3474.

The Comptroller and Auditor General, Sir John Bourn, is the head of the National Audit Office employing some 750 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.

PN: 58/01