Institute for Government think tank blasts "disappointing" new Single Departmental Plans

IfG's deputy director Julian McCrae says long-awaited new plans are "little more than a laundry list of nice to haves"

By Civil Service World

19 Feb 2016

New plans aiming to set out how departments will deliver on their Spending Review commitments have been dismissed as "little more than a laundry list of nice to haves" by a leading think tank.

Single Departmental Plans were announced last year by civil service chief executive John Manzoni, in a bid to help departments plan for the rest of the parliament by aligning the spending settlements agreed with the Treasury with key manifesto commitments and plans for departmental reform.

The plans were published on the GOV.UK website on Friday afternoon. They state each department's over-riding "vision", their key policy objectives for the parliament, and the broad areas of organisational reform they will focus on as they seek to reduce day-to-day spending. Each document is headlined with the current year's resource spending total – known as the Departmental Expenditure Limit – and the policy objectives are accompanied by a mixture of performance measures and targets based on open data sources.

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Cabinet Office minister Oliver Letwin has stressed that the new plans have the backing of the Cabinet Office, the Treasury and departments themselves, allowing for "more effective implementation".

But the SDPs have already been criticised by the Institute for Government, which last year issued a report warning that the coalition government's attempt to track delivery on manifesto commitments – dubbed "Department Business Plans" – had suffered from a "huge variation in quality" and a lack of support from the centre of government.

Responding to today's batch of publications, the IfG's deputy director Julian McCrae argued that the new plans would be of limited used to either civil servants or the public.

“The Single Departmental Plans published today were intended to show how the political promises of the Conservative Manifesto and the Spending Review would be turned into reality," McCrae said.

"It is therefore disappointing to see that the plans are little more than a laundry list of nice to haves, giving no sense of ministerial priorities. For example, it’s possible to identify over 60 separate priorities in Theresa May’s plan, while there are close to 100 in Patrick McLoughlin’s one for the Department for Transport.

"Worse still, many of these individual priorities are little more than waffle, which is no use to civil servants trying to implement the government’s agenda or to the public trying to hold them to account.

"Ministers' failure to produce a single, clear roadmap for departments will undoubted limit the government’s ability to achieve its promises.”

Publication of the plans has slipped since they were first announced last summer. The Spending Review document said they would be published "in December 2015", while Manzoni told MPs late last year that they would be published in January

Launching the SDPs, chief secretary to the Treasury Greg Hands said: "The plans will not only increase transparency and accountability, but by focusing resources where they are needed the most, we will ultimately be able to guarantee greater value for money for taxpayers."

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