Fresh crop of Single Departmental Plans emerges
Tweaks for 2019 include Public Value Framework sections but IfG warns openness project is still very much a work in progress
Ministries have published their Single Departmental Plans for 2019, setting out priorities for their work and giving key organisational data for the fourth year since the project's inception.
The latest public versions of the documents, first published in 2016, today set out for the first time departmental priorities to implement the Treasury's new public value framework in their planning and everyday decision-making in a bid to improve value for money in public services.
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Announcing the plan to rollout the framework In March after some initial pilots, the Treasury said that departments would be expected to embed the Public Value Framework – designed by former No 10 Delivery Unit chief Sir Michael Barber as a core drive of value for money in public spending – into their SDPs.
AMong the SDPs, the Cabinet Office’s Public Value Framework section stated that: “To support the delivery of our objectives, we will be improving our performance against the Public Value Framework in the following areas: implementing planning and monitoring progress; quality of data and forecasting; public and taxpayer legitimacy; workforce capacity.”
Meanwhile, the Treasury committed to improving its performance in four areas: understanding vision and goals, managing financial resources, public and taxpayer legitimacy, and workforce capacity, while HM Revenue and Customs said it would focus on improving: user and client experience and participation, capacity to evaluate impat, and benchmarking and cost control. The Department for Work and Pensions said it would "pursue goals through the implementation, planning and monitoring of our progress, developing system capacity through stakeholder engagement and carrying out work on our user and citizen engagement through user/client experience and participation".
Launching the plans, Cabinet Office minister David Lidington said in a written statement that the plans “set out each government department’s objectives and how they will achieve them. Taken together, they show how departments are working to deliver the government’s programme”.
As well as including measures to incorporate the principles of the Public Value Framework, Lidington highlighted that, building on the introduction of Equality Objectives last year, this year all departments’ plans include diversity and inclusion indicators to track the government’s progress in making the civil service the UK’s most inclusive employee.
Following recommendations from the National Audit Office, Public Accounts Committee and the Institute for Government, he revealed that Cabinet Office and Treasury officials had worked with departments to improve single departmental plans in three key areas: to ensure that they are more specific, more focused on departmental priorities and include improved performance indicators.
“Each plan too reflects the government’s ambition on diversity in public appointments - that, by 2022, 50% of all public appointees are female and 14% of all public appointments made are from ethnic minorities,” she said. “They also indicate how departments are contributing to the domestic delivery of the sustainable development goals.
“Single departmental plans allow Parliament and the public to track departments’ progress and performance against a number of indicators. Their annual eeport and accounts, which will be published in due course, show how a department has performed against the objectives in their single departmental plan over the course of the last year.”
The Institute for Government has taken a keen interest in the progress of SDPs since they were first mooted in the summer of 2015, and has repeatedly called for them to set out more detail on key areas of departmental activity in a way that also allowed for greater comparability between departments.
Programme director Gavin Freeguard told Civil Service World that his initial scans of the SPDs published so far revealed that an expansion of workforce data and budget breakdowns had yet to materialise.
“We’d like to see a greater degree of alignment between SPDs and departmental annual reports,” he said.
“We’ve also been arguing for a much fuller version of the SPDs to be made available, because we know there are more detailed internal versions of the plans that are not for public consumption.”
Freeguard also said that the section on “cross-cutting issues” that was a feature of 2018’s SDPs seemed to have “disappeared”.
In a reference to the nation's Brexit impasse and the implications of the Conservative Party leadership race, IfG senior fellow Martin Wheatley said there was an extent to which departments deserved credit in getting the documents to publication stage “in the current circumstances”.
The IfG has urged ministers to take a leaf out of Canada’s book and create a single portal along the lines of its Infobase, which provides whole-of-government spending information.
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