Publication paused on departments’ annual strategy plans

Agencies will not be required to release documents for the current fiscal year

Credit: OpenClipart-Vectors/Pixabay

Departments will not publish annual strategy plans this year after they were disrupted by the Autumn Statement and the now-scrapped intention to cut 91,000 civil service jobs, Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden has said.

However, Dowden confirmed that Rishi Sunak’s government will keep in place the system of outcome delivery plans – following speculation that his predecessor, Liz Truss, had planned to scrap them. Introduced last year as a replacement for single departmental plans, ODPs include a requirement for departments to outline commitments to digital transformation and report on their progress.

Departments’ current ODPs, which are used to plan priorities and monitor performance, are tied to the three-year 2021 Spending Review, which was revised in this year’s Autumn Statement.

All departments produced draft ODPs for 2022-23. However, the Cabinet Office and Treasury paused their publication after the announcement in May of plans to reduce the civil service workforce by 20%, so they could be updated to reflect any workforce changes, Dowden said in a letter to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee.

Dowden said November’s Autumn Statement, which included the decision to only protect planned increases in departmental budgets over the SR21 period in cash terms amid soaring inflation, would also require the plans to be updated.

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Departments will therefore not be required to publish ODPs for this year and will instead focus on their 2023-24 plans. They will report progress on last year’s plans in their 2022-23 annual accounts, the minister said.

ODPs require departments to provide 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 enablers, alongside ‘workforce, skills and location, ‘delivery, evaluation and collaboration’, and ‘sustainability’.

Institute for Government researcher Rhys Clyne said Clyne said it was “a shame” that this year’s ODPs would not be published, but that the government has made “the right decision” by keeping the performance framework.

Clyne said the government was “right to ensure workforce and budgetary decisions are taken into account in new plans”.

Sunak has now scrapped the 91,000 job-cuts target, but has said departments will need to “look for the most effective ways to secure value and maximise efficiency within budgets”.

Clyne said the headcount target would have impacted departments’ ability to achieve their priority outcomes agreed in the 2021 Spending Review, while changes to departmental budgets and the impact of inflation needed to be reflected in ODPs.

But scrapping the system altogether would have led to the government spending “precious time, energy and bandwidth creating a new framework that is inevitably similar to the last”, Clyne said – although he added that there was room for improvements and greater transparency.

The Institute for Government had previously warned the government against replacing ODPs, which were introduced by Boris Johnson’s government only last year.

New governments have frequently dismantled their predecessor’s performance frameworks, with the New Labour, Coalition and 2015 Conservative government all doing so.

More transparency
ODPs involve departments agreeing to three-to-four objectives, as well as several cross-cutting goals that involve multiple departments, and spelling out how they will deliver them. They have been praised for reducing the number of focus areas compared with previous systems, and for an emphasis on evidence and evaluation, with the Cabinet Office able to monitor the extent to which real-world outcomes are being achieved.

But Clyne said the government “should be much more transparent” about the performance framework, calling for departments to publish their more detailed, internal version of ODPs alongside quarterly dashboards detailing their performance against the plans.

The fact that this year’s ODPs have not been published has added to the transparency issues, Clyne added.

Clyne said ODPs would also benefit from greater input from frontline workers, outside experts and citizens.

He also stressed the importance of political will in ensuring they are an effective tool.

“Performance frameworks only work if they are seen as politically important,” he said. “The prime minister must make it clear that ministers will be held to account for achieving their plans. And, in turn, ministers need to use the ODPs in their day-to-day leadership of departments.”

A government spokesperson said: “Outcome delivery plans continue to be an important part of how departments measure their performance against priorities. The 2022-23 plans will not be published to ensure departments can concentrate on the production of ODPs for 2023-24.”


Sam Trendall

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