Headlines: April 10th, 2002

There is agreement across the public sector that improved accountability will result in better services, but there is widespread failure to take a systematic approach to deliver better accountability. This is the conclusion of the Public Services Productivity Panel in its report Accountability for Results. The Panel is sponsored by the Treasury.The Panel found that although the principles are well understood, implementation of accountability is often weak. The complexity of public services aggravates the problem. While organisations are generally very good at producing long-term strategies and plans, there are too many targets and objectives with a lack of prioritisation. This partly results from having more than one principal with different agendas. Chief constables, for example, are accountable to both the local Police Authority and the Home Office.

Research also revealed that organisations have mechanisms for review that are not performance oriented. The information reported to principals is often too detailed which means that strategic issues can be lost in the detail or that principals receive so much information that they cannot assimilate it fully. Information that is sent to principals is often many months old and therefore is inadequate for effective performance review.

The Panel recommends that the role of non-executive directors should be defined to include a responsibility for ensuring that a clear accountability framework is in place and that it is put into practice in a systematic way.

The report lists critical questions which form a check list and can be used as a developmental and diagnostic tool for all parties involved.

The report is available at http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/mediastore/otherfiles/Accountability%20fo r%20Results.pdf