The systems that the Coalition government is putting in place to replace the implementation-side of the Spending Reviews as they existed under New Labour are becoming clearer.
First to appear were the draft Structural Reform Plans (July 2010) which set out key ‘milestones’ for changes that departments had to make. These have been followed by Departmental Business Plans (October 2010) that formalise the SRPs, set out departmental ‘visions’ and ‘priorities’ and add some, fairly superficial, information about departmental spending. Finally, and crucially, they set out some idea of the “information strategy” for each department – i.e. what it is going to publish about what it actually delivers by way of “impacts”. These, again, look remarkably similar to the old PSAs under New Labour.
According to Nick Timmins in the FT a “Downing Street implementation unit will monitor progress monthly and publish when milestones or timetables are missed. If they are, the reason will also be given.
The offending minister and department will then face a meeting with Danny Alexander, chief secretary to the Treasury, and Oliver Letwin, the Tory strategy minister, who jointly chair a committee that oversees tackling obstacles and blockages. If there is still insufficient progress, there will be meetings with the prime minister or deputy prime minister.”
This is remarkably similar to the processes used by the Labour government after the establishment of the PM’s Delivery Unit in 2002. The new system is somewhat less powerful though, as under the Delivery Unit setup Ministers and Mandarins from key departments had to meet with the Prime Minister four times a year to report on their progress – giving the then system much greater political clout.