Conclusions and recommendations
1. The three departments need to gain assurance
that their delivery partners have sufficient capability and capacity
to deliver services effectively.
All three deliver services indirectly through a network of agents
and partners and, if they are to identify and manage the risks
of delivering through such partners, each department needs to
undertake regular appraisal of their partners' strengths and resilience,
and to secure a clear view of the constraints and opportunities
they face. The Department for Transport, for example, relied on
Railtrack to deliver upgrades to the West Coast Mainline but mismanagement
led to serious cost and time overruns.
2. The departments should work to simplify
complex delivery chains and financing mechanisms, and establish
a direct link between funding and the specific improvements in
service quality they expect the resources to deliver. Schools
for example, are funded through many channels including the Department,
local authorities and the Learning and Skills Council. By aligning
more closely increased funding to specific objectives and targets
for improved service quality the departments will be in a stronger
position to gauge whether resources are being used effectively.
3. Departments need to be satisfied that expenditure
on higher salary levels is genuinely needed to attract more skilled
or highly qualified staff. Otherwise additional
resources for service improvement can tend to leak away into higher
pay without matching productivity improvements.
4. The Departments of Health and Education
need to balance devolving responsibility for service delivery
to the local level with not letting wider service improvement
be jeopardised by pockets of poor or failing performance.
In devolving responsibility departments seek to respond to the
demands and expectations of service users at the local level.
They need, however, to retain sufficient leverage, including contingency
plans, so that they can take prompt action to deal with unacceptable
variations in service quality.
5. The Department of Health needs to engage
with those delivering services directly to the public to identify
and tackle the reasons for any unacceptable disparities in service
quality. They need to understand the reasons
why the quality of services provided by some delivery agents is
better than that provided by others, for example the variability
in the quality of services delivered by GP practices. Where disparities
are unacceptable departments need to incentivise, provide support
and, where necessary, penalise delivery agents to bring up their
level of performance to that of the best performers.
6. In addition to international comparisons
the three departments should make use of the information on the
performance achieved by their equivalent organisations in Scotland,
Wales and Northern Ireland. Devolved arrangements
have now been in place for several years providing an opportunity
to examine whether new approaches are proving to be effective
in delivering better quality services.
7. The three departments need to simplify
the complex web of performance targets and develop productivity
measures which provide an accurate and meaningful picture of service
delivery performance. For example the
Department for Education and Skills measures productivity in a
way that does not reflect the extent of improvement in educational
quality. For instance, productivity can be increased by making
class sizes larger regardless of any impact on pupil attainment.
8. Departments should share information on
their plans to increase delivery capacity more widely among key
suppliers. Departments can find themselves
competing for suppliers particularly in the construction industry
when both the Department of Health and the Department for Education
and Skills have significant building programmes. The Department
of Health, for example, has a capital investment programme in
modern buildings and equipment totalling some £15 billion
over the next three years. Without careful management there can
be an inflationary impact on the cost of construction for all