Headlines: March 25th, 1998

Next Steps Executive Agencies are being urged to compare themselves with private sector organisations, the wider public service and overseas organisations. Dr David Clark, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who presides over the Office of Public Service, believes that this is one way in which they can search out best practice which might help to improve the quality and efficiency of services. In doing this they will be able to take full advantage of the potential released by continuing advances in information technology.Benchmarking is a well tried technique in agencies. A pilot project was launched in June 1996 to test whether the European Business Excellence Model could be used to identify best practice and highlight areas where organisations can learn from each other. Some 30 agencies, employing 200,000 people took part in the pilot. The results showed that agencies scored well in customer satisfaction, policy, strategy and management of financial resources. They scored less well in leadership and human resources. The use of the Business Excellence Model has been extended to other agencies.

The appeal to benchmark comes at the end of the ‘agency creation’ phase and signals a new focus on performance. The Next Steps initiative was launched by the then Prime Minister in February 1988 to separate executive functions of Government from policy advice. The target was to turn 75% of the civil service into agencies within 10 years and this has now been achieved. Although more agencies will be created, Ministers have been urged to change the focus of their attention to performance. They have also been asked to improve the transparency in agency reporting so that everyone can judge whether performance is weak or strong.