‘Wholly unconvincing’: PACAC chair slams ministers' decision to block release of outcome delivery plans

William Wragg says “disappointing” choice will reduce ability of parliament and public to scrutinise departments’ plans
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By Tevye Markson

26 Jul 2023

Ministers’ decision to again block the publication of outcome delivery plans is “surprising and disappointing”, Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs chair William Wragg has said.

Wragg said ministers’ argument that this would enable departments to focus on Rishi Sunak’s five priorities – halving inflation, growing the economy , reducing national debt, cutting NHS waiting lists, and stopping small-boat crossings – is “wholly unconvincing”.

ODPs help departments to measure their performance against key priorities. Summaries for the first round of annual plans, for 2021-22, were published in July 2021 but none have been made publicly available since.

HM Treasury and Cabinet Office ministers John Glen and Jeremy Quin wrote a letter to the PACAC chair earlier this month, saying departments “will only be required to produce internal ODPs for 2023-24”.

This came after Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden told the committee in November that the 2022-23 plans would not be published due to disruption from the Autumn Statement and the now-scrapped proposals to cut 91,000 civil service jobs.  At that time, Dowden said the decision would allow departments to concentrate on producing ODPs for 2023-24.

Glen and Quin told Wragg the latest decision not to publish ODPS would “enable departments to focus on delivering the prime minister’s five priorities whilst satisfying the broader delivery metrics that ODPs track”, in a letter published last week.

Responding, in a letter to the ministers published on Tuesday, Wragg said: “The argument that this will enable departments to focus on delivering the prime minister’s priorities is wholly unconvincing.

"It is not clearly apparent why publishing each department’s strategy for implementing the government’s priorities would interfere with their ability to do so.

“It would clearly however reduce the ability of parliament and the public to scrutinise departments’ plans and performance towards these priorities.

“Such scrutiny would not only enhance government accountability but has the potential, through critical feedback, to strengthen departments’ plans, and ultimately ensure better service delivery for businesses and individuals across the country.”

Wragg asked the ministers to reconsider the decision and recommit to publishing departmental ODPs on an annual basis, beginning again this year.

In their letter to the PACAC chair, ministers said departments would ensure public scrutiny of departmental delivery is “embedded across Whitehall” by reporting on the delivery of ODPs in annual reports and accounts. These reports, however, contain far less detail than the ODP summaries from 2021-22.

Wragg's concerns were backed up by Institute for Government associate director Rhys Clyne, who tweeted: "The argument that keeping the plans secret will enable departments to "focus on delivering the prime minister's five priorities" is fooling nobody. Departments should be using outside scrutiny to make those plans more robust. Publishing them should be seen as a bare minimum."

Clyne previously told CSW of his concerns at the lack of transparency when the government announced it wouldn't publish the 2022-23 plans.

The ODP system was created in 2021 to replace Single Departmental Plans. Departments agree three-to-four core objectives, plus several cross-cutting goals that involve multiple departments, and then spell out how they will deliver them and what metrics will be used to track performance. Throughout the year, the Cabinet Office is then able to monitor the extent to which real-world outcomes are being achieved.

A government spokesperson said: “The government remains centrally focused on delivering on the prime minister’s five key priorities and building a better future for the UK."

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