A league of their own

A league of their own

In the Coalition’s quest for a more transparent Whitehall, Government departments have been asked to publish reports detailing their progress month-by-month.

With Ministers currently on a break from Parliament to attend their respective Party Conferences, Portland has looked at which departments are the teachers’ pets and which are failing to hand their projects in on time.

In a year of economic crises, overseas revolutions and domestic riots, it is no surprise that the Coalition Government’s transparency agenda has failed to command many column inches.

Yet asking each department to publish a 5 year business plan, giving clear timescales and deadlines for delivering key coalition pledges, has certainly been a breath of fresh air for those involved in the policy making process. For a long time only the Government’s immediate priorities were made publicly available through their inclusion in the Queen’s Speech, but many departments now have implementation plans which stretch the length of this Parliament.

In fact some of the deadlines set out at the start of this have proved extremely conservative. For example, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport secured £830m of funding and had published its broadband strategy a year earlier than anticipated in its draft business plan. Elsewhere, consultations have dropped into inboxes exactly when we were told to expect them.

However, the picture across the whole of central Government is mixed at best. We took the transparency data for the period from August 2010 to July 2011 and used this to determine the average percentage of actions completed on time by each department. Our analysis, set out below in full, shows that International Development, the top performer, was over a third more efficient than the Treasury, which had the lowest completion rate.

According to our league table, Justice Secretary Ken Clarke, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith and Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles will be amongst the most satisfied members of the Cabinet.

Of more concern to the Government, particularly in the context of disappointing growth figures and rising unemployment, will be the performance of two of its lead economic departments – HM Treasury and Business, Innovation and Skills. Both are failing to deliver around one third of their projects on time.

But while the monthly press releases from Number 10 emphasise the importance of the progress reports in ensuring that departments are accountable for the implementation of the reforms in the Coalition Agreement, exactly how they are made accountable is unclear. For instance, there is no benchmark against which to measure the relative success (or lack thereof) of individual departments – does the Government have a view on what is an acceptable completion rate?

So far, then, only the thinnest of veils has been peeled away from the face of Whitehall. On this examination of Government transparency, the Coalition’s own report would read must try harder.

You can read our full departmental review here.

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