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The Cabinet Office’s Capability Review programme aims to assess and improve government departments’ ability to deliver their objectives. The National Audit Office today reports that the programme has led to evidence of greater capability in departments.  But departments have yet to show that the programme has had an impact on outcomes in delivering public services.

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The Capability Review programme was launched in 2005 to assess and compare systematically, for the first time, individual departments’ organisational capabilities.  Only four other countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development have initiatives comparable to the Capability Reviews, in terms of scope, coverage and approach.

Action to tackle weaknesses in capability is now a prominent feature of board business and every department has a board member leading its review response. However, there is some uncertainty in departments about whether, or how, the programme will continue, risking a loss of momentum.

The first-round reviews found common weaknesses in board leadership, determining the best way for delivering public services and staff skills. There is now evidence of improved capability, particularly in boards’ visibility and cohesion.

Today’s NAO report also found:

  • Capability Reviews are encouraging departments to work together while at the same time sharpening their focus on comparative performance;
  • Capability Reviews focus on departments, but services are often implemented by external agencies which are not covered directly by reviews; and
  • there is no benchmarking of departments’ capabilities against external organisations, which might offer examples of best practice.

“Capability Reviews are intended to assess the organisational strengths and weaknesses of government departments. There is evidence so far that departments are indeed taking actions to improve their capabilities. It remains to be seen how far these actions will result in improvements in the delivery of public services.”

Tim Burr, head of the National Audit Office


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