Recently introduced ODP framework requires departments to set out digital transformation and innovation objectives – and measures their progress
Prime minister Liz Truss has been urged to think very carefully before scrapping the newly-introduced Outcome Delivery Plans system of planning and performance monitoring for departments – which include mandatory commitments to digital transformation and set out various metrics assess progress.
A report published this week by think tank the Institute for Government says that junking the system – as some reports have suggested Truss (pictured above) is actively considering – would hamper the new government’s ability to achieve its priorities ahead of the next general election, which must be called by December 2024.
Outcome Delivery Plans were introduced last year in an attempt to improve on predecessor Single Departmental Plans and the coalition government’s “input and impact indicators”.
They were praised at the time for focusing on a handful of core objectives, as opposed to many times more “priorities” in SDPs, and for the new framework’s emphasis on evidence and evaluation.
The initial set of ODPs were published by departments last year, setting out ambitions for the 2021/22 year and providing updates on four areas defined by the Cabinet Office as “strategic enablers” that cut across all government’s work. ‘Innovation, technology and data’ is one of the four, alongside ‘workforce, skills and location, ‘delivery, evaluation and collaboration’, and ‘sustainability’.
Departments’ current ODPs are tied to the three-year 2021 Spending Review, which is expected to be revised later this year, and Truss – and new chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng – could follow the example of previous administrations and scrap the prevailing system.
In their report, IfG senor researcher Rhys Clyne and programme director Nick Davies urge the PM to take a different tack, arguing that it would be a “mistake” to axe ODPs with just weeks to introduce a new monitoring system before a new spendng review and barely more than two years before a general election.
“It is one of the most useful tools at the new prime minister’s disposal to guide delivery – changing or removing it would weaken her and her government’s ability to oversee and affect progress towards her goals,” they said. “The prime minister should view the framework as a means by which she can oversee performance across government and hold her ministers, and the civil service, to account. Ministers should use the framework as support for their leadership of departments. It stands to improve the evaluation of policies before, during and after implementation. And in turn it can help the government to spend public money more efficiently, learning from what works to secure as much value as possible.”
Clyne and Davies said a single view of government performance shared by departments and the centre of government in No.10, the Cabinet Office and the Treasury was necessary for good government.
“It provides the prime minister with a lever of accountability to manage her cabinet,” they said.
Clyne and Davies acknowledge that support for ODPs among ministers in Boris Johnson’s administration was patchy, and that the system was already hampered by the announcement that departments would be asked to cut 20-40% of their staff just weeks into the current SR period.
They said the publication of departments’ 2022 ODPs has been delayed as a result of uncertainty relating to ongoing work on the plans to reduce the size of the civil service by 91,000 over the next three years.
But Clyne and Davies maintained that Truss’ best option would be to retain the ODP system, with some improvements.
They called for Truss and Kwarteng to champion the framework and demand ministers use it as a tool for normal departmental planning and cross-government co-ordination, and for ODPs’ content to be improved.
One measure being sought is for the “outcome strategies” section of ODPs to include a description of the system in which each outcome will be achieved, and the role of other Whitehall departments, as well as external factors that could affect performance.
Another is the publication of quarterly performance dashboards for all departments in an “open, interactive form”.
The full IfG report can be read here.