Pledges on public services are changed

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Indy Politics

Ministers were accused yesterday of "fudging" targets designed to drive up standards in public services. Opposition MPs claimed that targets on child poverty, NHS bed blocking, army recruitment, use of the arts and the performance of the courts system had been diluted or abandoned.

Ministers were accused yesterday of "fudging" targets designed to drive up standards in public services. Opposition MPs claimed that targets on child poverty, NHS bed blocking, army recruitment, use of the arts and the performance of the courts system had been diluted or abandoned.

Downing Street insisted it was on course to achieve nine out of 10 targets. But the Tories and Liberal Democrats said their research showed that fewer than half of the targets, covering each Whitehall department, had been met.

The Treasury published a new set of 130 "public service agreements" yesterday after "refining" the 160 targets set two years ago. Precise details of how the new targets are defined and how they relate to previous targets will be published in the next few days.

But opposition MPs argued that targets had been cut or rewritten to water down Government commitments. Matthew Taylor, the Liberal Democrat treasury spokesman, said: "The only progress the Government is making on the public service agreements is fudging them and dropping them or watering them down."

Most of the targets remain unchanged, but several goals have been abandoned or altered. Targets for the Department of Health remove a commitment to tackle "bed blocking" in the NHS by "ensuring year on year reductions in delays in moving people over 75 on from hospital". Liam Fox, the shadow Health Secretary, warned: "It is no surprise that improvements in bed blocking have been taken out of this year's spending review because it is entirely clear that Labour's mismanagement of the care home sector has plunged the sector into crisis."

A commitment to cut child poverty was rewritten to promise a less clearly defined reduction in "children from low-income households." And the Army has been given more time to solve its manpower crisis. It was originally given a target of achieving 97 per cent of its manning levels by March 2004; that date has been put back to end of 2005.

A specific pledge by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to increase by 500,000 the number of people "experiencing the arts" by 2004 has not been repeated. In its place is a promise to "increase significantly the take-up of cultural and sporting opportunities by new users aged 20 and above from priority groups".

The Department of Transport has abandoned a promise to double the number of passenger journeys by light rail systems between 2000 and 2010, while the Foreign Office has dropped its target of issuing 95 per cent of passports within five working days.

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