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Modern Policy-Making: Ensuring Policies Deliver Value for Money

Departments should check whether their policy-making and implementation processes are suitable and cost effective, and the Cabinet Office can assist by accelerating the identification and dissemination of good practice, Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office, today reported to Parliament.

Departments spend some £350 billion a year on a range of services and activities intended to benefit citizens. If public services are badly designed and implemented, they will not meet users’ expectations and may have adverse unintended impacts. Departments can enhance their ability to design and deliver policies cost effectively by learning from the good practice approaches adopted by others within the public sector and beyond.

The report identifies good practice in policy design and implementation by drawing on selected case studies and examples of good practice from departments, local authorities, the private and voluntary sectors. The report’s key findings include:

  • Identifying the need for a policy requires departments to have reliable and comprehensive information, including research into citizens’ preferences, and to be robust against foreseeable contingencies.
  • Understanding the nature of the problem, including having staff with the necessary research and analytical skills, and exploiting web based technology to access a range of information from across departments and from outside government. Departments need to have in place well developed strategies to determine their information requirements and to analyse the components of an issue so that they can focus their policy development effectively.
  • Assessing how policies are likely to work in practice is a crucial stage in policy design that should identify the practical constraints which need to be overcome if policies are to be successful. This includes estimating the likely costs of polices, opportunities to shape policies so that certain groups are not unintentionally excluded, and determine whether policies are likely to represent value for money and deliver sustainable benefits in the longer term.
  • Identifying and assessing risks to performance and delivery such as assessing the capability of those required to implement policies, and assessing whether those intended to benefit from a policy are likely to do so, by examining accessibility and communicating the policy to those intended to benefit (the Department of Health’s Meningitis C vaccination programme provides a good example of this, examined in the report).

The report also identifies good practice for Departments to improve the way they implement, maintain and evaluate their policies. By following these, they can ensure that they are well placed to manage risks to value for money and under-performance; that policies remain relevant and cost effective and that they can keep policies on track when something unexpected occurs.

The report suggests some key questions for departments to consider to secure intended outcomes and to deliver value for money in the policy process, including the interconnection of policies, how the identification and management of risks are built into policy design and implementation, and measuring, reviewing and evaluating the effectiveness of policy activities and outcomes.

Notes for Editors

The Cabinet Office White Paper "Modernising Government" was published in March 1999, and the Cabinet Office published "Professional Policy Making for the Twenty First Century" in September 1999, setting out the key principles which policies should aspire to.

The Centre for Management and Policy Studies was formed as part of the Cabinet Office in June 1999 to help departments develop better policies and translate them into action by making policy more evidence-based, identifying and promoting good practice approaches to policy-making, and training and developing public sector managers.

The NAO report draws on case studies from government departments, local authorities, the private sector and the voluntary sector. It sets out examples of good practice in policy design, implementation and maintenance over time, and examines the steps needed to secure value for money and to identify and manage the risks of policies not delivering what is intended. Examples of departmental policies examined include the Department of Health’s Meningitis C vaccination programme, the Department for Education and Skills’ National Literacy Strategy, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ Arable Stewardship Programme. The report notes the progress made in the development and promotion of better policy-making by the Cabinet Office, including their report being published today  "Better Policy-Making". Two related NAO reports shortly to be published also of relevance for risk and value for money in policy-making will assess the use made of regulatory impact assessments in the policy process, and how government is joining up to improve service delivery.

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: 49/01