Public value framework to become 'part of the culture' in departments

Written by Beckie Smith on 14 March 2019 in News
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Single Departmental Plans to reflect on departments' performance against the framework from 2019-20
 

Chief secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss. Photo: PA

Government departments have been told to embed 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.

A revised version of the framework, which was originally proposed by former No 10 Delivery Unit chief Sir Michael Barber in November 2017, was published yesterday following a series of pilot projects. It contains a series of questions departments should use to ensure projects and programmes achieve value for money.

As of next year, government departments will be expected to embed the framework in their Single Departmental Plans. In their 2019-20 plans, departments will set out their performance against the framework to date and how they have used it to improve their performance, and planned improvements in future. "Steps have already been taken to begin embedding the framework across existing planning and performance processes," chief secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss wrote in a foreword to the document.


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According to the document, which was unveiled alongside chancellor Philip Hammond's Spring Statement, the introduction of the framework marked a shift in how value for money in public spending was assessed.

Rather than aiming to quantify and compare inputs and outputs, which has traditionally been the focus of such assessments, the public value framework "seeks to define everything that a public body should be doing in between to maximise the likelihood of delivering optimal value from the funding it receives", it says.

The framework is intended to be both a diagnostic tool, in determining how successfully projects and programmes achieve value for money, and to inform policy design. It does this using a series of questions relating to five core "pillars": pursuing goals; managing inputs; engaging citizens and users; and developing system capacity.

The framework has been trialled in five pilot projects in different departments and spending areas since the Barber review, and during that time it has "proved powerful and been warmly welcomed across government", Barber told CSW.

Barber said he was "delighted" to see the revised framework in the public domain, adding: "It is a great step forward that it will play a significant part in the forthcoming Spending Review."

"After piloting it over the course of the last year we have been able to refine and simplify it," he said.

Based on the outcomes of the pilots, the framework's questions have been whittled down from 152 to 35. They have also been divided into headline questions – which require a quality judgement – or prompt questions, which support the former but mostly require a yes/no response.

Under the first pillar, for example, questions include "How well defined is the overall vision for this area of spending?", which is subdivided into further questions such as "Are the vision or goals expressed clearly such that they could be understood by a member of the public?" and "Are they linked to specific and measurable goals?"

In her foreword, Truss said the pilots had "demonstrated the importance of data and innovation, as set out in the November 2017 report".

"[The framework] needs to become part of the culture, such that the expectation becomes that departments will work together and with the Treasury to continuously improve their performance against the framework, and with it the value they deliver for taxpayers. The next phase of this work is designed to achieve just that," Truss wrote.

The Treasury has now adapted the framework based on the pilot phase "to signal the ongoing importance of improvements in these areas to support public value", Truss said.

Parts of the framework have also been restructured and language clarified in the revised document to make it "a clearer and more intuitive tool", she added.

In the Spring Statement, Hammond said the Spending Review would "maximise value for taxpayers’ money through a renewed focus on delivering high quality outcomes".

The public value framework document notes that it "remains a work in progress".

It adds: "The process of developing the framework will continue, and this publication is likely to be updated on a periodic basis to incorporate the latest thinking as the work is pursued. Any and all engagement on how it could be improved is always welcome."

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Beckie Smith
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Beckie Smith is a reporter for CSW who tweets Beckie__Smith.

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