Pressure grows for Blair to cut down on targets as figures reveal 'patchy' success

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair was warned yesterday that the Government will struggle to achieve its 2004 targets for improving key public services.

At a "delivery summit" at Chequers, the Prime Minister reviewed the progress made in health, education and crime since 1997 and the prospects of making further improvements before the general election, expected in May or June next year.

Michael Barber, the head of Downing Street's delivery unit, is believed to have told the meeting that although significant progress has been made on the three issues, improvement was patchy in some areas. John Reid, the Secretary of State for Health, Charles Clarke, the Secretary of State for Education, and David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, were also at the meeting.

Mr Blair faces growing pressure from ministers to scrap many of the 130 targets set for 2004 and switch to a small number of "smart targets" focusing on key goals. One minister said: "The targets were a good idea at first but have become a menace. They were not drawn up in conjunction with frontline staff.Priorities were distorted in order to meet them"

Mr Blair is facing a crucial year on delivery, with the Government due to meet 20 key targets. The number of goals has already been cut and ministers say they will be accused of "moving the goalposts" if they order a further cull.

Education ministers have downgraded their 2004 targets for 11-year-olds after failing to meet their goals for 2002. Figures for last year showed that the number of pupils achieving the required standard in tests was stuck at 75 per cent in English and 73 per cent in maths. Ministers are also struggling to meet targets for 14-year-olds in English, maths and science despite improvements in performance.

Truancy figures fell from 0.72 per cent in 2002 to 0.7 per cent last year, suggesting that a pledge to cut the figure by 10 per cent by this year will not be met. The Government has missed its flagship target for secondary schools after the number of children gaining at least five A* to C grades at GCSE failed to rise by two percentage points a year, increasing instead from 52 per cent to 53 per cent. The same figures show that 135 schools were adrift of the target to have at least one in five pupils gaining a minimum of five A to C grades at GCSE.

The Home Office pledged to reduce vehicle crime by 30 per cent between 1999 and 2004. Latest figures show a cut of just 21 per cent between 1999 and June last year. NHS bosses, however, believe that targets to improve accident and emergency treatment as well as access to a GP and primary health care professionals will be met. Failure to achieve key goals would be an acute embarrassment for Mr Blair. Additional targets, due in 2004, cover the environment, agriculture and defence recruitment.

The Tories plan to scrap the majority of the Government's targets in an attempt to cut waste in Whitehall. Yesterday the party issued a dossier claiming the Government was failing to tackle education, health, crime and transport.

Liam Fox, the joint chairman of the Conservative Party, said: "Tony Blair's admission that the 'job is only half done' is not good enough. The simple truth is that Labour is incapable of carrying out the reforms needed to improve Britain's flagging public services. Britain's taxpayers deserve better."