Select Committee on Treasury Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses(Questions 140-159)

MR NICHOLAS MACPHERSON AND MR ADAM SHARPLES

WEDNESDAY 17 JULY 2002

  140. That is words.
  (Mr Macpherson) No, it is not words actually. We have very regular meetings, at least once a quarter, with departments at official level to review progress against PSAs and to identify what action needs to be taken if performance is lagging a sensible trajectory for that target. What is more, we are reinforcing that now with the NAO who will audit the data systems underlying these targets. Also, following a very helpful dialogue with this Committee, we have committed ourselves to more regular reporting and more transparent reporting against PSAs. From the Treasury perspective, I have to say I welcome this new interest in PSAs. It has been difficult to get them off the ground but the fact that we are now all talking about them can only be of benefit to the Treasury and the taxpayer.

  141. Right. On the question of reporting, the late of education but not lamented Professor Barber, I think you have got him somewhere in Downing Street now, said something about he was going to put them on the net and report quarterly. What are your intentions on producing performance against targets on an open public and regular basis? How regular, where and when?
  (Mr Macpherson) Departments are required already to report on them twice a year, once in their departmental report and once in, is it called, the performance report in the autumn, so that is twice. Through this review I think we have made commitments, also, to extend that and Adam probably has the commitment.
  (Mr Sharples) We have indeed. We published a White Paper setting out all the PSAs and that commits us to introducing regular web based reporting of progress against all the PSA targets with links to the associated technical notes.

  142. What does regular mean, Mr Sharples? Is regular once a year, quarterly, six monthly?
  (Mr Sharples) We have to look at the practicalities of how frequently we can do it.

  143. You have not got there yet?
  (Mr Sharples) It is worth bearing in mind—

  144. No, no, I am just trying to get so we know where we are. You have not arrived at how regularly they will be updated?
  (Mr Sharples) No, we have not finalised that yet.

  145. When will you do that?
  (Mr Sharples) We will be doing this in the coming months so that the system is available before the start of the next financial year.

  146. This is the trouble with these committees. What do you mean by few months? Do you mean this year, before autumn?
  (Mr Sharples) As I say, before the start of the next financial year when these targets come into effect.

  147. That is next March?
  (Mr Sharples) That is right.

  148. So you will not give us a decision on regularity for six or eight months. I am not being funny. I am just trying to find out what you are up to.
  (Mr Macpherson) You are quite right to ask.

  149. Very nice of you, Mr Macpherson.
  (Mr Macpherson) I would hope that we can give you a decision sooner than six months.

  150. Wonderful. Let me ask you about targets that disappear. One I know from my constituency that has not been met in education is where youngsters are excluded from school. In the 2000 review you pledged yourself that each of these youngsters got full-time education. I have got kids in my constituency and I am sure other members have kids in their constituencies who seem to wander at will but disappear from this year's performance targets. Has it been met? Is it too embarrassing? What is the sanction? Do they drop them if they find them inconvenient?
  (Mr Sharples) There is a target included in the education PSA for reducing school truancy and for improving—

  151. I have seen it, it is 10 per cent, but that is not the pledge. There was a double one. That is reduction of it but it said specificially—and I will read it to you if I am challenged but the Chairman will not want me to take the time—that every youngster who was permanently excluded would be given full-time education. Now it has disappeared. As you see, Mr Sharples, where your finger is, it is not there, it was in the previous one.
  (Mr Sharples) To finish the sentence of the target, it goes on to say "and improve overall attendance levels".

  152. It was a specific pledge which was much needed on our estates and it has disappeared. Perhaps you would let us know where that went to.
  (Mr Sharples) One of the commitments in the document is we will let you and everybody know precisely what has happened to all the old targets, where they relate to the new targets, where they have been met.

  Mr Mudie: What about this other dog's dinner, this spinning of all these so-called inspection bodies. How many of the seven are new? This is the great and good who will audit and inspect a key part of the reforms. How many are new? That is a specific question numerically which a man from the Treasury should understand. It is out of seven; how many are new?

Chairman

  153. Let the witness answer.
  (Mr Macpherson) I am not aware of a reference in the documentation to seven—

Mr Mudie

  154. I have counted them.
  (Mr Macpherson) The objective clearly is to rationalise them to make—

  155. They are listed on Page 12.
  (Mr Sharples) The proposals are for a rationalisation and strengthening.

  156. They are not new, they have been about.
  (Mr Sharples) It is a reorganisation and rationalisation of existing inspection arrangements.
  (Mr Macpherson) There are two objectives here. One is to strengthen inspection, the other is also to rationalise it to make it more proportionate. Part of the problem with a lot of public services is they are inspected by a whole raft of different agencies and some of the thinking underlying both the reforms to health and also to housing is to bring this inspection under one umbrella body which will therefore ensure that the inspection itself is more effective than it is at present.

  157. But the answer to it is that they have been in existence, you shall be rationalising them but far from being a major reform they have been in operation for some considerable time. These are the bodies which with the rationalisation will become super auditor inspectors.
  (Mr Macpherson) It may not feel like that to the hospital which now only has to deal with one CHAI rather than having the CHI coming round and then two weeks later the Audit Commission coming round which is time intensive for managers.

  158. That is a question because when I was in further education they used to play hell when they used to have three audit inspections. Who will inspect hospitals in future? Are there going to be two auditors or is everybody going to be inspected once and audited once? What are the implications?
  (Mr Macpherson) On hospitals there is going to be one body—the CHAI.

  159. What happens to the district auditor on housing? Will the district auditor no longer have housing as a responsibility?
  (Mr Macpherson) The housing proposals will be spelt out in detail in due course, but the objective, as I say, is to strengthen the process but also to make it more effective by rationalising it.


 
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