Modernising Government

2. Policy making:

We will be forward looking in developing policies to deliver outcomes that matter, not simply reacting to short-term pressures

1. Policy making is the process by which governments translate their political vision into programmes and actions to deliver 'outcomes' ­ desired changes in the real world. Many of the other issues considered in this White Paper cannot be seen in isolation from the policy making process. Government cannot succeed in delivering the outcomes people want if the policies and programmes they are implementing are flawed or inadequate.

2. People are becoming more demanding, whether as consumers of goods and services in the market place, as citizens or as businesses affected by the policies and services which government provides. To meet these demands, government must be willing constantly to re-evaluate what it is doing so as to produce policies that really deal with problems; that are forward-looking and shaped by the evidence rather than a response to short-term pressures; that tackle causes not symptoms; that are measured by results rather than activity; that are flexible and innovative rather than closed and bureaucratic; and that promote compliance rather than avoidance or fraud. To meet people's rising expectations, policy making must also be a process of continuous learning and improvement.

Identifying the problem

3. Like some other countries the United Kingdom has, over the past 20 years, implemented a series of reforms in the work of government. The main focus has been on improving value for money in service delivery. Most of the nationalised industries have been privatised. Within central government, 'agencies' have been created: tasks have been more clearly defined, individuals offered more responsibility and managers given more scope to manage. Some of these tasks have also been privatised or contracted out. Local authorities have been subject to tight financial control and compulsory competitive tendering.

4. This emphasis on management reforms has brought improved productivity, better value for money and in many cases better quality services ­ all of which we are determined to build on. On the other hand, little attention was paid to the policy process and the way it affects government's ability to meet the needs of the people. Although there are areas, such as foreign and security policy, where effective co-ordination and collaboration are the norm, in general too little effort has gone into making sure that policies are devised and delivered in a consistent and effective way across institutional boundaries ­ for example between different government Departments, and between central and local government. Issues like crime and social exclusion cannot be tackled on a departmental basis. An increasing separation between policy and delivery has acted as a barrier to involving in policy making those people who are responsible for delivering results in the front line.

5. Ministers are individually and collectively accountable to Parliament for the work of government. Too often, the work of Departments, their agencies and other bodies has been fragmented and the focus of scrutiny has been on their individual achievements rather than on their contribution to the Government's overall strategic purpose. Policies too often take the form of incremental change to existing systems, rather than new ideas that take the long-term view and cut across organisational boundaries to get to the root of a problem. The cultures of Parliament, Ministers and the civil service create a situation in which the rewards for success are limited and penalties for failure can be severe. The system is too often risk-averse.

What must change

6. This Government expects more of policy makers. More new ideas, more willingness to question inherited ways of doing things, better use of evidence and research in policy making and better focus on policies that will deliver long-term goals. Our challenge, building on existing good practice, is to get different parts of government to work together, where that is necessary, to deliver the Government's overall strategic objectives ­ without losing sight of the need to achieve value for money. This means developing a new and more creative approach to policy making, based on the following key principles:

  • Designing policy around shared goals and carefully defined results, not around organisational structures or existing functions. Many policies are rightly developed and pursued by a single part of government. But a focus on outcomes will encourage Departments to work together where that is necessary to secure a desired result.

  • Making sure policies are inclusive. We will devise policies that are fair and take full account of the needs and experience of all those ­ individuals or groups, families and businesses ­ likely to be affected by them.

  • Avoiding imposing unnecessary burdens. Where government considers it right to regulate it will do so, but regulation for its own sake is too often seen as an easy answer, without proper consideration being given to better ways of achieving the outcome. We will base our decisions on a careful appraisal of the benefits any measure seeks to achieve, the costs it entails and the cumulative burden of regulation on business. In doing so, we will give business and other interested parties a proper opportunity to contribute.

  • Involving others in policy making. Rather than defending policies, government should lead a debate on improving them. This means developing new relationships between Whitehall, the devolved administrations, local government and the voluntary and private sectors; consulting outside experts, those who implement policy and those affected by it early in the policy making process so we can develop policies that are deliverable from the start.

  • Improving the way risk is managed. Government is often criticised for intervening too much to protect people from some risks, while failing to protect them sufficiently from others. Much government activity is concerned with managing risks, in the workplace, in what we eat and in protecting the environment. We need consistently to follow good practice in policy making as we assess, manage and communicate risks.

  • Becoming more forward- and outward-looking. This means learning to look beyond what government is doing now; improving and extending our contingency planning, learning lessons from other countries; and integrating the European Union and international dimension into our policy making.

  • learning from experience. Government should regard policy making as a continuous, learning process, not as a series of one-off initiatives. We will improve our use of evidence and research so that we understand better the problems we are trying to address. We must make more use of pilot schemes to encourage innovations and test whether they work. We will ensure that all policies and programmes are clearly specified and evaluated, and the lessons of success and failure are communicated and acted upon. Feedback from those who implement and deliver policies and services is essential too. We need to apply the disciplines of project management to the policy process.

Taken together and if applied consistently, these principles will re-invigorate our policy making capacity and capabilities. But that is not the end of the story. This White Paper will form the start of an ongoing debate, involving Ministers, civil servants and other stakeholders, about how policy making can be improved and how we can best ensure that policy delivers the changes that really matter.

Making a start

7. The Comprehensive Spending Review published last year, set new priorities for public spending with significant extra investment in key services such as education and health. It also identified key, cross-cutting issues that are best tackled across organisational boundaries. It is important that we build on this foundation to set clear priorities and a strategy for government as a whole.

Cross-cutting policy in practice ­Sure Start

The Comprehensive Spending Review showed that services for children under 4 years old are patchy and fragmented. Research demonstrates that early intervention and support is important in reducing family breakdown; in strengthening children's readiness for school; and in preventing social exclusion and crime. The aim is to work with parents and children to improve the physical, intellectual, social and emotional development of young children.

Cross-departmental groups, involving people with an interest in health, education, the local environment, juvenile crime and family welfare as well as local government and the voluntary sector, were set up to devise and implement Sure Start. They have come up with an initial programme of 60 pilot projects ­ announced in January ­ based on evidence of what works and on the principle of learning from those with a track record in delivery.

8. To help us learn what works best in policy making, we are also experimenting with different ways of organising work around cross-cutting issues.

Different ways of tackling cross-cutting policies

  • The Social Exclusion Unit is a cross-departmental team based in the Cabinet Office set up to tackle in a joined up way the wide range of issues which arise from the inequalities in society today.

  • The Women's Unit supports the Minister for Women in representing the needs of women within government through research, specific project work, timely interjections into policy initiatives and longer-term work on institutional change.

  • The Performance and Innovation Unit reports direct to the Prime Minister on selected issues that cross departmental boundaries, and proposes policy innovations to improve the delivery of the Government's objectives. It will also review aspects of government policy, with an emphasis on improving the co-ordination and practical delivery of policy and services which involve more than one public body.

  • The crime reduction programme relies on co-ordinated working across central and local government, drawing on their expertise in policy development, implementation and research, to identify and deliver effective measures for reducing crime.

  • The UK Anti-drugs Co-ordinator was appointed in 1997 to re-invigorate our approach to drugs problems and to galvanise the work of all agencies, ensure greater effectiveness and better use of resources.

  • Customs & Excise/Inland Revenue have agreed cross-representation on each other's Boards and appointed a joint programme director to improve co-ordination of their tax policies, secure increased compliance and deliver better and more efficient services to businesses.

  • The Small Business Service will improve the quality and coherence of delivery of government support programmes for small business and ensure they address their needs.

  • The Home Office, the Lord Chancellor's Department and the Crown Prosecution Service are now jointly planning and managing the criminal justice system (CJS) as a whole, including the publication for the first time of integrated plans for the CJS.

9. We need an effective system of incentives and levers to put these principles into practice and to tackle the barriers to more effective policy making. These may include new accountability arrangements, such as pooled budgets across Departments, cross-cutting performance measures and appraisal systems which reward team-working across traditional boundaries. We have asked the Performance and Innovation Unit (PIU) to examine the accountability and incentives framework and report its findings by the summer.

10. The Government has taken a number of other steps already to apply these principles to policy making. For example:

  • To make sure our policies are forward-looking, we have launched a new round of the cross-Departmental UK Foresight Programme. The PIU is separately identifying the key future challenges that government will have to face. This work will help Departments and other organisations to look beyond their existing policies towards the Government's long-term goals.

Looking ahead ­ the UK Foresight Programme

This will develop visions of the future, drawing in views from different age groups, regions and the widest possible range of organisations ­ government, the scientific community, business and the voluntary sector ­ to consider longer-term social, economic and environmental issues facing the UK. The aim is to help stakeholders, including government Departments, to identify what we need to do now, in partnership, to prepare us for future challenges and to make the most of advances in science and technology.

The Foresight 'knowledge pool', the first system of its kind in the world, will operate both as an electronic library of strategic visions, information and views about the future and as a platform for stimulating action by bringing people together and forging new partnerships.

  • In the past, important groups in society have been marginalised. By understanding the diverse needs of society and mainstreaming them into Departments' thinking, we will be able to make policy that is better for all. As a first step, the Department for Education and Employment, the Home Office and the Women's Unit have issued new guidelines which set out how to achieve fair and inclusive policies, taking account of the needs of different groups in society. The new devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will all have explicit remits to promote equality of opportunity in exercising their responsibilities.

  • We will continue to draw the public, outside experts and those who implement policies into the policy making process through a range of task forces and review groups and by appointing lay members to many expert advisory committees.

Involving the public ­ Excellence in Schools

In order to ensure that all parents had the opportunity to contribute to the consultation Excellence in Schools (the Government's proposals for raising standards in schools in England by 2002) the Department for Education and Employment realised that they had to do more than publish an official paper. The proposals were produced in a number of formats and disseminated through many different outlets. A special telephone helpline was opened, free summaries were distributed through supermarkets and high street shops and there was a four-page pull-out section in the Sun newspaper. The helpline took over 1,700 calls, there were over 3,000 written responses to the full White Paper and a further 5,000 to the summary version. Most encouraging was the positive response, 3,500 replies, from individual parents. All responses were analysed and taken into account when decisions were reached.

Images - St Mary's College Londonderry.

Southwark Council ­ Library and Information Services.

11. It is important to link the better ways of developing policy identified in this chapter to better ways of delivering policy through well-considered legislation. Our efforts have focused primarily on publishing more legislation in draft for consultation, and arranging formal pre-legislative scrutiny of draft Bills within Parliament where appropriate. A full set of explanatory notes is provided with each government Bill and we have introduced a statutory requirement for all Bills to be accompanied by a statement on compatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights. We have also taken a positive approach to modernising Parliamentary procedure in Westminster and are seeking to make use of some innovative procedures ­ such as the special Standing Committee on the Immigration and Asylum Bill ­ this Session.

Future action

12. The Government will go further to ensure that policy making delivers creative, robust and flexible policies, focused on outcomes. Action to achieve this will include:

  • following up the start made in the Comprehensive Spending Review by looking in the next review of public spending plans for further areas where joint working and budgeting are appropriate.

  • responding to the report by the Performance and Innovation Unit in the summer on accountability and incentives to tackle the barriers to joined up policy making and innovative team-working in service delivery and publishing the further action the Government intends to take in the light of that report.

  • seeking further opportunities to improve all stages of the legislative process, from policy development, through Parliamentary consideration of legislation, to ways of keeping legislation up to date in a world of increasingly rapid change.

  • producing and delivering an integrated system of impact assessment and appraisal tools in support of sustainable development, covering impacts on business, the environment, health and the needs of particular groups in society.

  • developing, in the newly formed Civil Service Management Committee of Permanent Secretaries, a more corporate approach to achieving cross-cutting goals and providing the leadership needed to drive cultural change in the civil service. One of its tasks will be to ensure that the principles of better policy making are translated into staff selection, appraisal, promotion, posting and pay systems. (We discuss this further in chapter 6).

  • offering, for the first time through the new Centre for Management and Policy Studies (see chapter 6), joint training to Ministers and officials which will allow them to discuss the way policy is, and should be, made and to address particular areas of policy. It will also promulgate good practice in policy making, and develop a more government-wide, outcome-focused culture.

  • asking the Centre for Policy and Management Studies to organise a programme of peer reviews to ensure Departments implement the principles of Modernising Government. We will also consider how best to assess whether Departments are operating the management systems necessary to deliver the principles identified in this chapter.

  • learning the lessons of successes and failures by carrying out more evaluation of policies and programmes. We will modernise evaluation standards and tools.

13. The Government is also introducing a series of steps aimed at removing unnecessary regulation and ensuring that future regulations are limited to measures which are necessary and proportionate. In particular:

  • the Better Regulation Task Force will complement its existing role by spearheading a new drive to remove unnecessary regulation.

  • we will introduce legislation to increase the flexibility of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994, to facilitate deregulatory action.

  • where departments are preparing policies which impose regulatory burdens, high quality Regulatory Impact Assessments must be submitted to Ministers and the Cabinet Office must be consulted (in the same way as the Treasury is on proposals with public expenditure implications) before decisions are taken. This process should ensure that any new regulations do not impose unnecessary burdens and can be managed so as to minimise cumulative effects and business uncertainty.

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Prepared 30 March 1999