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Services threatened by flaws in Government planning and spending decisions

8 February 2019

Government's over-optimism and focus on short-term thinking threaten value for money. Treasury and Cabinet Office should incentivise joint working to drive down cost-shunting. Furthermore, publicly available plans must be more detailed and departments must be measured against them.

Progress on improving government's planning and spending framework is an ongoing challenge for the Treasury and the Cabinet Office, although some progress has been made since this Committee last reported in 2016.

Unless action is taken vital services will fall through the cracks

However, we remain concerned that planning and spending are treated as disparate. We found compelling evidence that departments are not incentivised to plan for the longer-term, and they are repeatedly over-optimistic when planning for what they can deliver, by when and for how much.

Unless action is taken to correct these issues, the government's long-standing problems of short-term thinking, sticking-plaster funding and cost-shunting will persist, resulting in poorer quality, less sustainable and joined-up services.

Ultimately, this means that the needs of the public, who rely on and fund these vital services, can fall through the cracks.

There may have been improvements to the departments' single departmental business plans (SDPs) since 2015 but we are concerned about the variable quality and are particularly disappointed that they refuse to publish them.

Spending Review 2019 will be an important test

The publicly available summary-style versions of SDPs do not set out clearly departmental objectives, resources for delivering those objectives, or the targets or success measures taxpayers or Parliament can use to judge performance.

Spending Review 2019 will be an important test of the changes the Treasury and the Cabinet Office are making, particularly the extent to which SDPs can realistically provide the baseline for performance, finance and delivery. 

Chair's Comment

Comment from PAC Chair Meg Hillier MP:

"The interests of users should be paramount in the delivery of public services. It is a grim irony, then, that these interests can be put at risk by the machinery of Government: short-termism, over-optimism and a lack of joined up working all threaten the quality and sustainability of services.

These challenges are not new and neither are positive noises from the Treasury and Cabinet Office. But progress on improving the Government's planning and spending framework has been slow; published single departmental business plans remain inconsistent and short on meaningful detail.

If the Government is serious about delivering lasting change, it should demonstrate clearly how it intends to do so on a department-by-department basis. Parliament and the public must be given the information they need to properly judge the Government's performance.”

Further information

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