New localism, in which power is devolved from Whitehall to local bodies, must mean a shift towards local target setting. This is the key message from the Audit Commission in its report ‘Targets in the Public Sector’. The Commission believes that the debate about more or less targets is missing the point, what is needed is new thinking about the way targets are set. This thinking must take place against a background of all round concern about the slow pace of improvement.The Commission argues that national targets are appropriate where challenges are set by government, such as hospital waiting times and educational performance. Similarly where there is a need for an aggregate national performance such as waste re-cycling, a national target is needed. Partnership working brings complexity with issues that cut across professional boundaries and in such cases local target setting is likely to prove more beneficial. In some cases, eg the literacy hour, a nationally set minimum standard may be better than a target.
The way forward is seen as a shift, over time, from nationally to locally set targets as performance improves and greater trust is engendered. The shift would take place more swiftly for the stronger performing organizations that are tackling the challenges of their locality, providing there was a degree of uniform performance between the bodies in an area. In other cases of mixed performance, with say the local authority and the strategic health authority performing strongly and the police, primary care trusts and schools performing less strongly, the strong performers may take the lead in articulating a single view of local need.