Fewer targets to aid flexibility ­ but Letwin derides it as a feeble effort

Gordon Brown slashed the number of public service targets agreed between the Treasury and government departments from 125 to 110, saying the cut represented Labour's "increasing focus on key priorities".

The Chancellor also fulfilled a Budget promise to axe more than 500 detailed "input and process targets" which he said would give Whitehall departments greater flexibility. Conservatives dismissed the move as a "feeble effort", saying Mr Brown was still wedded to central-government control of services. Oliver Letwin, the shadow Chancellor, said: "As long as Gordon Brown is in charge, this Government will be one that has a plethora of targets and initiatives and bureaucracy.

"This is a pretty feeble effort to cut back on ...targets helping to strangle the enterprise of Britain's public services."

Mr Brown said Public Service Agreements ­ the headline targets set by the Treasury for each government department ­ were "fundamental to the Government's approach to delivering world-class public services". He said: "They inject ambition into the public services, whilst providing the users of services with more information than ever before with which to hold services to account."

He insisted that the targets set out the goals of the public "whilst providing frontline managers with the freedom to innovate and to make decisions about the most effective and efficient means of delivery".

The new public services agreements have been cut from more than 240 targets since 1998 and now represent an average of six main goals per department. Documents released yesterday said departments would no longer have to produce detailed "service delivery agreements", which accounted for 500 targets in 2002, and now had to take a "proportionate approach" totarget setting.

New targets announced yesterday include halting a rise in obesity among children under less than 11 years old by 2010, cutting crime by 15 per cent over three years and a formal target to ensure that no patient waits more than 18 weeks from referral by a GP to hospital treatment.

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