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Measuring Up: How good are the Government’s data systems for monitoring performance against Public Service Agreements? Fifth Validation Compendium Report reviewing data systems underpinning 2008-11 Public Service Agreements

Despite a small improvement in the quality of the data systems used by government departments to monitor their progress against their Public Service Agreements (PSAs), there are still many areas for improvement – with 11 per cent of systems rated red, according to a report by the National Audit Office.

Good quality data systems enable departments accurately to report their performance against PSA to Parliament and the public. They also play an important role in helping departments improve programme management and performance; assess whether they need to revise policies and programmes; allocate resources; and make other policy decisions. PSAs were introduced in 1998 to promote performance improvement and increase the accountability for government resources. The Comprehensive Spending Review in 2007 set a new performance framework with a move to a cross-departmental system and the streamlining of the number of PSAs, indicators and targets.

According to today’s report, 89 per cent of data systems in departments are at least broadly appropriate for measuring progress against their PSAs. This is a modest improvement when compared with previous sets of PSAs. There has also been an improvement in the clarity and presentation of PSA monitoring information, making it easier to understand the significance of any issues arising and which organisations are responsible for delivery.

But there is still room for improvement. In 2007, HM Treasury reduced the number of PSAs and national targets. Instead a premium was placed on high quality, timely data. It is unacceptable that 34 per cent of data systems still have weaknesses and 11 per cent remain unsatisfactory.

Many of the weaknesses in the data systems stem from departments failing formally to consider the quality of data needed to check progress on their PSAs and an associated lack of formal risk assessment. Despite HM Treasury issuing good, comprehensive guidance on the development of indicators which help departments know if PSAs were being met, departments did not consistently apply this guidance and HM Treasury did not enforce its application.

Interim findings and findings by Public Service Agreement


"For any organisation, monitoring and measuring performance are fundamental to improving the management of resources and the delivery of services. So the slow progress being made by some government departments in achieving better quality information about their own performance is a matter for concern. The NAO has found that some one third of the PSA data systems used by departments have weaknesses and just over a tenth remain unsatisfactory.


"Departments now have the benefit of lessons from a decade or more of outcome-oriented performance management. The Treasury has issued good guidance reflecting that experience: it now needs to enforce its application." 


Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office

Notes for Editors

  • In 2007, the Government reduced the number of cross-cutting Public Service Agreements, focusing on its highest priority outcomes from some £589 billion of annual expenditure.  The 30 PSAs are underpinned by 152 indicators used to measure and report progress.  The National Audit Office examines the quality of the data systems underlying PSAs.

  • During 2008-09, we covered the PSAs led by: the Department for Communities and Local Government, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (including PSA 27 which was transferred to the Department for Energy and Climate Change), Department for International Development, Department for Transport, Department of Health, Government Equalities Office, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Home Office.

  • Detailed finding for each data system are published on our website:

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

  • The Comptroller and Auditor General, Amyas Morse, is the head of the National Audit Office which employs some 900 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: 51/09