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Effective cross-government working must be more than a ‘nice to have’, PAC urges

13 February 2024

  • Missing or inadequate data hindering Departments cooperating on projects
  • Report calls for greater clarity of reporting on cross-cutting policies including net zero, health and social care, and levelling up

Effective working across government must become more than just a ‘nice to have’. In a report published today, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) calls on both HM Treasury and the Cabinet Office to take a firm grip in facilitating and improving cross-government working, and to learn from the barriers that prevent it.

Different parts of Whitehall working together is fundamental to successful delivery of much government policy, but the PAC regularly sees important programmes hindered by difficulties. The inquiry heard that common barriers include structures and bureaucracy getting in the way of planning and delivery; poorly-understood ministerial priorities; inconsistent join-up in spending decisions and allocations; a lack of routine data-sharing between Departments; and poor arrangements for sharing best practice and learning.

Many cross-government projects that come before the PAC are hindered by missing or inadequate data. Areas named in the report include the criminal justice system and tracking net zero investment, but the PAC has reported time and time again on the impact of poor IT, with extreme complexity and inconsistency a feature of data systems across government. The report notes that difficulties with data sharing, due to technical issues or departmental unwillingness to do so, has been identified by the Government as the main barrier to cross-government working.

The report finds that it is not always clear which departments are involved in delivering policies which cut across departmental boundaries. Cross-cutting outcomes covering major policy areas including net zero, health and social care, and levelling up are not consistently reported on by Government, and the PAC says the Cabinet Office should more clearly publish these kinds of cross-cutting outcomes and progress made against them.

Initial steps have been taken to evaluate optimal cross-government working, but the PAC calls on HM Treasury to use its influence to go further, for example by only approving business cases for proposed projects that clearly demonstrate a link to the relevant cross-cutting aim they support, and contain appropriate plans for evaluation, and detail on what cross-government outcomes and outputs should be delivered.

Chair's comment

Dame Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

“So many important Government projects are dependent on Whitehall working in harmony with itself. Yet so often difficulties with cross-government working are precisely what is hindering these projects and the benefits for citizens. While departments are rightly focused on their own policy areas, complex societal issues cannot be solved in departmental silos.

Both the Treasury and Cabinet Office have made good progress in naming the problem by identifying the barriers preventing good working across government. The Government must now continue the process of toppling these barriers. We hope the recommendations in our report help it to do so.”

Further information

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