Ministers have missed 122 of 346 Whitehall performance targets

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The Government has failed to hit more than 100 of the performance targets it set itself as part of its drive to improve public services and the state of the nation. Research by The Independent shows that 122 of the 346 targets fixed for the 17 Whitehall departments are being missed, according to the Government's figures. Some 224 have already been met or are on track.

Promises that have not been kept include raising standards in English and maths; improving the asylum system; raising the level of employment among disadvantaged groups and improving air quality. Others where the Government admits to "slippage" include pledges to cut crime; reduce child poverty; tackle health inequalities and social exclusion and reduce teenage pregnancies.

The figures were obtained from annual performance reports placed on the websites of individual departments last month. The Government has not published an overall summary of how many targets are being achieved.

In the reports, the Government admits to "major slippage" on its goal to create a "stable, united and law abiding state" in Iraq and to secure a Middle East peace settlement. On climate change, it concedes that a pledge to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 20 per cent from 1990 levels by 2010 "looks increasingly difficult to achieve".

The Treasury admits to "slippage" on its goal of "improving public services by working with departments to meet their public service agreements (PSAs)".

The agreements, which include the targets, have been a key instrument used by the Treasury since Labour came to power. According to the Tories, the figures highlight the Government's failure. Chris Grayling, the shadow Work and Pensions secretary, said: "Gordon Brown has spent the past 10 years trying to control everything. Now even his own targets show that he can't actually deliver anything."

Mr Brown is unrepentant about the use of targets, believing they have played a vital role in improving public services. A Downing Street source said: "If all the targets could be met easily, there wouldn't be any point in having them. They are very useful in areas such as public health in showing where problems are emerging so that we can put more resources into them. They allow us to prioritise where we are falling behind."

A Treasury spokesman said last night: "The Treasury has set challenging ambitions to ensure 100 per cent of PSAs are met or partly met, and has been making great strides working with departments to maximise delivery – currently, of the PSAs assessed, the majority are on course."

Officials calculate that 78 per cent of the targets set in 2004 that have been assessed are on course, although that figure does not include those set earlier. They point to big successes such as a substantial cut in mortality rates from heart disease, strokes and related diseases by at least 40 per cent in people under 75 – a target which was met five years early.

Ministers argue that it is better to "aim high" and fail than to not try to improve services. They cite the ambitious goal of a maximum 18-week wait between seeing a GP and having a hospital operation, which is due to be achieved this year. "Even if that works for 95 per cent of patients, it would make a massive difference," said one source.

But ministers admit that the number of targets is unwieldy and want to slim down the numbers so the public can see more easily where they are being met.

Critics of the system accuse the Government of "moving the goalposts" by constantly changing the targets so it is difficult to monitor progress. They claim targets distort priorities, notably in the NHS.

Opponents argue that the Whitehall reports make it hard to judge whether targets are being met. Some goals are described as "not yet assessed", including tackling Britain's obesity crisis. These have not been included in The Independent's analysis. Some targets are described as "broadly on course with some slippage", "partly met" or "on course to be partly met". They have been counted as not achieved in our study. But we have counted those described as "on course with minor slippage" or where departments speak of "encouraging progress" as being met.

Read Andrew Grice online at independent.co.uk/todayinpolitics

Failing to hit the target

* Cut crime by 15 per cent and further in high crime areas by 2007-08.

* Protect the public and reduce reoffending by5 per cent for young offenders.

* Reduce the harm caused by drugs.

* Raise standards in English and maths so 85 per cent of 11-year-olds achieve level 4 or above by 2006, with this performance sustained to 2008.

* Reduce inequalities between levels of development by children in 30 per cent of the most disadvantaged areas and rest of England.

* Halve number of children in relative low-income households between 1998-99 and 2010-11, on way to eradicating child poverty by 2020.

* Cut proportion of children living in workless households by 5 per cent between spring 2005 and spring 2008.

* By 2008, be paying pension credit to at least 3.2m pensioner households.

* Increase the employment rate of disabled people.

* Cut benefit overpayments by fraud and error by 2008.

* Reduce health inequalities by 10 per cent by 2010.

* Eliminate fuel poverty in vulnerable households by 2010.

* Reduce proportion of young people not in education, employment or training by 2 percentage points by 2010.

* Focus asylum system on those genuinely fleeing persecution by taking speedy, high quality decisions and reducing significantly unfounded asylum claims.

* Tackle social exclusion.

* Reduce race inequalities and build community cohesion.

* By 2010, bring all social housing into decent condition.

* Create cleaner, safer, greener public spaces.

Source: Departmentalperformance reports

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