Session 2002-03

Press Notice No.21


Committee now to take evidence on choice in public services

The Government has promised to refine its public service targets policy along lines recommended by PASC-the House of Commons Public Administration Committee. In a positive response to a Committee Report, published today (HC 1264), the Government says it is looking at ways of devolving responsibility for targets to local bodies and making targets more relevant to the needs of service users. 

A major Government review is also considering ways of making sure professionals like nurses and teachers are involved in target-setting, something strongly backed by the Committee.

The Committee welcomes the Government's statement, but says that urgent action is needed to overcome continuing "widespread suspicion and misunderstanding" of ministers' policy on performance measurement.

The Committee also announced today that it would be taking evidence early in 2004 on the question of choice in public services, part of an inquiry into proposals to strengthen the role of users in public services. This, the next stage of PASC's wide-ranging inquiry into the Government's reform programme, will examine how well the needs and views of consumers are monitored, and "whether reform is really bringing wider choice". Among the witnesses to be invited will be ministers and officials from departments concerned with service delivery and Wendy Thomson, head of the Prime Minister's Office of Public Services Reform.

Commenting today, Committee Chairman Tony Wright MP said:

"We are pleased that the Government has given such strong support to the Committee's view of its policy on targets and league tables, and that action is being taken to ensure that the flaws are dealt with and the benefits realised.

"One major theme of our Report was that national target-setting risks distorting services and causing alienation among those who actually provide services. We welcome the Government's response, which stresses the need to decentralise responsibility and to be realistic about what performance measurement can do. Our evidence showed us that there is still a lot of disillusion and unhappiness about targets. The Government needs to communicate better, and to dispel the impression that targets are hard Stalinist measures intended to be achieved to the last decimal point. They should be a positive encouragement to progress, not a stick to beat people with."

Dr Wright also commented on PASC's coming examination of the issue of choice in public services:

"Choice is one of the Government's key principles of public service reform. It is also becoming daily a more prominent area of political debate. As part of our wider inquiry into reform, we aim to throw some light on the issues surrounding individual choice, equity and efficiency. We will be examining how these principles can best be combined with the need to give the community a voice in the direction of services. Evidence will be sought from  both government departments and those with a direct interest in local delivery-notably those people who use services."