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Promising signs from Spreadsheet Phil

The Institute for Government has called for the Chancellor to live up to his ‘Spreadsheet Phil’ moniker by using data on government performance to drive decisions. Based on today’s Budget, Dr Emily Andrews says the signs are promising but it’s too early to tell if he really deserves his title.

In our Performance Tracker we began our ongoing assessment of the performance of government with five public services: hospitals, adult social care, schools prisons and police. 

Today the Chancellor was quiet on crime and criminal justice, having given prisons a substantial cash injection in November’s Autumn Statement. Now he’s settled into the job, his announcement on the others give us a sense of his approach to spending decisions. So what has he said about the other areas we're tracking?

Social care

Social care is to receive a short-term injection of cash to ease the acute pressures in the sector; £2bn (front-loaded) of additional central government funding over the next three years. This will be welcomed by sector advocates who were not placated by the emergency measures of last December, which amounted to not much more than a shuffling about of existing local government revenue.

On its own, this announcement would show little progression from the ‘crisis, cash, repeat’ cycle we identified in our assessment of the Government’s performance. However, it was coupled with recognition that a ‘strategic approach’ to the long-term challenge of social care in an ageing population was direly needed. 

We can expect a Green Paper setting out options later this year; none of which, the Chancellor claimed, will be a revival of the so-called “death tax” he had reportedly been considering. This review should be based on an assessment of why previous attempts to tackle the problems of health and social care (such as the Better Care Fund) have often produced underwhelming results.


On the NHS, the Chancellor shows a willingness to invest in reform. The initial £325 capital investment will do little to assuage those who feel the sector is already at ‘breaking point’ but the way the Chancellor is planning to invest that money is promising. It will go to support those Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STP) which have progressed far enough to justify the investment, with a multi-year capital investment plan for the rest to be announced in the Autumn.

This shows a welcome recognition of the variation in those plans, many of which are (as yet) nowhere near the concrete organisational plans needed to put the sector on a more sustainable footing. This promise of capital investment could provide much-needed heft to the beleaguered STP process, though not enough to ensure their success. 

Schools budgets

On schools, he announced £260m of capital investment for existing schools, and £320m for new free schools in this Parliament – including ‘selective free schools’, if Government can get their grammar schools plans through Parliament. 

More secondary school places will be needed for the forecast 10% rise in secondary pupils up to 2020. But these specific measures seem little designed to ease the pressures facing schools right now. These are clearly visible in the data: missed teacher recruitment targets for maths and science, more teachers leaving the profession than entering it, and straitened budgets for existing schools as employer pension and national insurance contributions rise. The message to school leaders remains the same: efficiency savings will have to be made.

Looking ahead

This was a trailer for the Chancellor’s first Autumn Budget, when can expect a more usual bumper edition, following a busy summer of consultation. By postponing big announcements until then, Phillip Hammond has ensured the expectations will be high. He is laying down the ground work for a more strategic, less crisis-driven approach to spending decisions, but our ongoing tracking of government performance will tell us whether or not he has delivered.

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