Report shifts focus for performance targets to regions

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Many parts of the public service face "excessive" numbers of government targets and performance measures, the Treasury admitted as it revealed for the first time the scale of controls imposed on frontline staff.

Figures published yesterday show how local goals and measures have expanded under the Government's target-setting regime as Gordon Brown proposed replacing Whitehall targets with a system allowing local services to choose their own goals.

A Treasury study showed that the NHS front line had to comply with 206 government controls, 17 times the 12 national targets set by the Department of Heath, while schools face 207 controls and measures, 36 times the six headline targets set by Whitehall.

Police also faced similar numbers of external targets and goals, even though only nine related to headline government aims, the report said.

Introducing the report yesterday, Mr Brown said "local performance standards and local publication of performance data will progressively replace national targets''.

"One way forward is that local communities should have the freedom to agree for each service their own local performance standards - choosing their own performance indicators and monitoring both the national and local performance indicators with national powers as a backstop."

He added: "In return for reform and results, and as an incentive to all the rest, the best performing localities will soon have even more freedoms and flexibilities that reflect a government that enables and empowers rather than directs and controls."

His comments represent a dramatic reversal of a central part of the pledge-card politics which helped Labour sweep into power in 1997. They will re-ignite the debate over the Government's commitment to target setting, which has led to charges of Whitehall micromanagement and bureaucracy.

Tony Blair is facing a crucial year on delivery, with the Government due to meet 20 of its main targets, but ministers will face accusations of "moving the goalposts" if they order a further cull.

Yesterday's report promises a radical slimming down of Labour's culture of targets, arguing that local controls work better than the central government goals pioneered by New Labour from 1997. The Government has already cut the number of national public service agreement targets from 240 to 130 and has promised to axe more than 500 technical targets.

But teachers, doctors and other frontline staff complain that they have produced a plethora of local goals, inspections and other measures which can damage morale and interfere with management.

The report says: "The review found that many organisations do face excessive externally set targets, measures and compliance requirements. When faced from the perspective of a local authority, hospital, school or other local organisation, the number of controls faced is dramatically higher than the number of public service agreement targets targets suggests."

Ministers have been pressing for a move to "smart" targets amid fears that the Government will struggle to achieve high-profile targets for 2004.

Mr Blair was warned that the Government was in danger of missing a series of its goals at a "delivery summit" at Chequers earlier this year. Michael Barber, the head of Downing Street's delivery unit, is thought to have warned that improvement was patchy in some areas.

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