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.