William Eichler 21 July 2016

Whitehall lacks ‘coherent framework’ for enacting long-term policy, NAO says

The Government has no 'coherent framework' for implementing decisions made in the spending review, auditors say.

The National Audit Office (NAO) today published two reports into the way the Government manages and plans its business and concluded the current processes do not add up to an effective framework for enacting policy.

The reports - The Spending Review 2015 and Government's management of its performance: progress with single departmental plans - said the effects of the lack of a coherent framework can be seen in examples of poor value for money and a lack of long-term, joined-up thinking.

The NAO’s report into the 2015 spending review criticised HM Treasury’s strong focus on the spending review period to 2020. It argued this meant less attention was paid to longer-term funding decisions or impacts.

The Spending Review 2015 said taxpayers have a right to expect decisions taken in spending reviews to be based on robust data, not only on government policy commitments.

It also noted the treasury’s approach to the spending review remains rooted in bilateral negotiation and does not sufficiently incentivise collaboration across departments.

The NAO found many departments are using the single departmental plans (SDPs) to improve their business planning and monitoring of performance.

However, Government's management of its performance warned SDPs do not provide the degree of Parliamentary accountability that Whitehall has promised.

‘Time and again, we find that problems in the delivery of public services can be traced back to the way Government goes about planning and managing business in pursuit of an administration’s policy objectives,’ Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said.

‘Instead of an enduring framework that supports coherent strategic planning, effective business management and accountability, the current approach amounts to a collection of top-down, set-piece processes and guidance that fail to make the most of the understanding and expertise across government.

‘We welcome the process improvements in the most recent spending review, and the signs of improvement in individual departments’ business planning, but government must make a deeper cultural change if it is to make a lasting difference to its performance, and narrow the gap in accountability and transparency.’

‘This is all the more important as a new administration, with redefined and urgent objectives, seeks to hit the ground running,’ he added.

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