HL Deb 07 December 1994 vol 559 cc93-4WA
Lord Colnbrook

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is the progress of the Next Steps initiative.

Earl Howe

The Government today published the fifthNext Steps Review—Cm 2750. It brings together information on the 102 agencies within Government, and the executive organisations of HM Customs and Excise and the Inland Revenue, which now constitute 62 per cent. of the Civil Service. Within central government, agencies are delivering the Citizen's Charter commitment to improved customer service and value for money. The review highlights how under the charter, agencies focus on the needs of the users of their services and gives examples of what individual agencies have achieved. Thirty Charter Marks have been awarded to agencies in the first three years of the competition, reflecting the commitment of agency chief executives and their staff to high standards of customer service.

The review reports the targets set for agencies and their performance against them in 1993–94 and lists key targets for 1994–95. In 1993–94 agencies met around 80 per cent. of their key targets, compared with 77 per cent. last year. Most targets have also become progressively more demanding year on year.

The Government's aim is that every public service should be provided in the most appropriate and cost-effective way. All the executive functions of the Civil Service are therefore being examined against the following tests: whether they need to continue to be performed at all; whether they need to remain the responsibility of Government; where the Government does need to remain responsible for an activity, does the Government have to carry out the task or can it buy in from outside providers; and whether they should become the responsibility of an agency within Government. The review reports further progress in this work.

Once established, agencies are subject to periodic review, now normally after five years of operation. To ensure that the widest possible range of views are taken into account, both the initial examination of an activity and these reviews are publicly announced, including through the Next Steps Review. The review also demonstrates many ways in which agencies are entering into partnership with the private sector, for example, by contracting out existing work to the private sector under a partnership arrangement or through joint ventures.

Over the last six years, the Next Steps initiative has fundamentally altered the way in which the Civil Service is managed. It is a key part of the programme of change outlined in the White Paper The Civil Service: Continuity and Change. The White Paper also proposed extending throughout the Civil Service many of the principles of Next Steps, including maximum clarity about objectives and targets, delegation of management responsibility and a clear focus on outputs and outcomes. The aim is a flexible and cost-effective Civil Service well-equipped to provide support for Ministers on policy matters and in the management of public services which meet the needs of their users.