Headlines: September 1st, 2000

The Treasury has placed faith in the Public Service Agreements as the way to raise the productivity of public services, but in a report ‘Public Service Productivity: Meeting the Challenge’ it recognises that it is fighting an uphill battle. The ideal is that effective performance management is be embedded in the culture and values, and that it involves everyone in improving the service they deliver. Few public service organisations can claim that this has been fully achieved.The report is based on the work of the Public Service Productivity Panel, which is made up mainly of senior managers from the private sector. Panel members contribute their time and expertise for free and are independent of the Government. The Panel was formed in 1998 and has completed 12 studies so far. Findings from the studies reveal a culture that does not place a high value on productivity. A study on measuring police performance found extremely wide variations between different forces performing identical work in similar conditions. A shambolic scene was revealed by a study of hospital outpatient arrangements.

The report recognises that a revolution in the way public services are managed is needed. The Panel’s study programme has highlighted the urgent need to reform performance management arrangements, which are generally not functioning effectively. In particular, stronger leadership and improved accountabilities and incentives for all public servants need to be developed. The reward for success is high: for every 1% of improvement in productivity, a saving of over ?2 billion is generated to re-invest in better services.