Targets, what targets?

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The publication of objectives for permanent secretaries shows that the coalition is as obsessed with targets as its New Labour predecessor

Both the parties that make up the current coalition government had great fun at New Labour’s expense criticising their ‘target culture’. All that time-wasting, box-ticking, form-filling, behaviour-distorting, nonsense would be swept away if they were in power. How did that work out then?

I have already pointed out that they did indeed sweep away Public Service Agreements (PSAs) and Departmental Strategic Objectives (DSOs) in a previous post. But I also pointed out that they had replaced them with elaborate Departmental Business Plans in 2011 and 2012 that actually contained MORE targets than New Labour had in their last set of targets (2007).

Now they have done it again – in publishing (some) permanent secretaries ‘Individual Performance Objectives’ they have illustrated once again just how much continuity there is between the last government and the current one when it comes to using targets. If you don’t believe me, just have a look at this set for Ursula Brennan (Ministry of Justice).

And a couple of small points:

– when they started publishing Departmental Business Plans they claimed this was a ‘first’ – it wasn’t, the last Conservative government started doing that back in the mid-1990s.

– now they are claiming publishing objectives for permanent secretaries is also a ‘first’ – again untrue, they were available under New Labour.

– and for a pretty hapless ‘implementation gap’ just have a look at where the Perm Secs objectives are published on the Cabinet Office website. The objectives are published by individual names only, so unless you happen to be a Whitehall insider, or a geek like me, you have no idea who is permanent secretary of what without poking about in the files.

User friendly? Transparent? Seriously?

This post first appeared on Colin Talbot’s blog Whitehall Watch

About Colin Talbot

Colin Talbot is Professor of Government in the School of Social Sciences (Politics), University of Manchester, and a former adviser to the Treasury select committee. He writes and comments widely on public management reform. Colin has worked with numerous national and international public sector organisations, as an adviser, consultant and researcher. He blogs at Manchester Policy Blogs.

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