Half of Whitehall’s performance measurement systems ‘unfit for purpose’

Nearly half of the government’s own performance measurement systems are “unfit for purpose” or have serious weaknesses, according to a scathing report by the National Audit Office.

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Nearly half of the government’s own performance measurement systems are “unfit for purpose” or have serious weaknesses, according to a scathing report by the National Audit Office.

The government requires the systems to monitor its own progress against its top objectives, called Public Service Agreements. They are used to improve programme management and performance, and to guide resource allocation and government policy.

Eleven percent of these systems have been rated ‘red’, meaning they are unable to fulfil their objectives.

Systems that have been judged red include those used to monitor steps to reduce serious criminal reoffending, and to monitor identity management at the country’s borders. The measuring of train overcrowding is also on systems that are in the red category, the NAO noted.

Another third of the government’s other performance measurement systems also have serious weaknesses, the NAO found in its ‘Measuring Up’ report.

Some 89 percent of systems are “at least broadly appropriate” for measurement, a figure the NAO called a “modest improvement” on last year. There was also an improvement in the clarity of monitoring information.

But the NAO lamented the fact that the Treasury had reduced the number of Public Service Agreements and national targets in 2007, in the interests of focusing more deeply only its highest priorities. This had contributed to so many systems having problems, it said.

There was also an issue over the quality of measurement data, it said, with departments struggling to measure performance without the right information. This issue existed in spite of the Treasury’s “good, comprehensive guidance” on developing the right indicators.

Edward Leigh MP, chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, which holds hearings based on NAO reports, called the problem a “poor state of affairs”.

He added: “Where data systems are to some degree suspect, to that degree departments cannot be held accountable to parliament and the public on how they spend taxpayers’ money and whether services are improving.”

The “slow rate of improvement” by the government “simply isn’t good enough”, Leigh said.

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