Performance Tracker shows what government is getting for its money

Spending on public services and benefits payments – which make up around 85% of government spending – has fallen by about 1% since 2010.* Within that total, however, there are services which have seen large spending cuts – such as prisons (down 22% since 2009/10) – and services which have seen spending rise – such as hospitals (up 15% since 2009/10).

Much of the public debate around these spending decisions focuses on money going in: the scale of spending cuts or the size of the rises. These things are important. But if we only look at the cash, we miss half the story. In order to understand these decisions – and evaluate them – we need to know what government is getting for its money.

That is what Performance Tracker sets out to do. We take key public services, and analyse not only changes to spending and staff numbers since 2009/10, but also what has happened to the scope and quality of those services. Have the Coalition and Conservative Governments succeeded in making those services run more efficiently, and get more for less? Or are the services being rationed, shrunk, or allowed to get worse?

We want to improve financial planning in government

The aim of this independent analysis is to prompt better financial planning in government, which will improve the oversight of essential public services. It is striking that this kind of exercise is not performed systematically in the Treasury or elsewhere in government. We want this publication to encourage the Treasury, in conjunction with Whitehall’s finance and analytic professionals, to fill that gap and produce its own version of Performance Tracker.

How we track government performance

The analysis in this report is drawn from more than 100 data series – mostly produced by government itself – alongside other information gathered from inside and outside government.

The services we cover

In this edition of Performance Tracker we have continued to track the performance of the five services covered in the last edition[1]: hospitals, adult social care, schools, prisons and the police.

While we analyse the services separately, we know that they do not operate in isolation. That is why, for this edition, we have included services related to those in our last edition. To the health and social care chapter we have added GPs, who are supposed to play a big role in relieving demand on hospitals. To the law and order chapter we have added criminal courts, part of the criminal justice pipeline from  police to prison.

It was clear in our last edition that local authorities were attempting to protect spending on adult social care despite large overall spending reductions. For that reason, we have included a chapter on local neighbourhood services in this edition: services such as waste collection and road maintenance, which have a big impact on the environment people live in, but have borne the brunt of local authority spending cuts.

In the coming years, tracking the performance of government will mean tracking the impact and implementation of Brexit. In this edition, we look at a service that is already feeling that impact: UK Visas and Immigration, the directorate of the Home Office which processes all applications to visit or stay in the country.

Our analytic frame

We define ‘performance’ in terms of the aim of the current Conservative Government, as well as the previous Conservative and Coalition Governments, to control spending while maintaining – or even expanding and improving – the scope and quality of public services.

The 2017 Conservative manifesto promised “world-class public services”, and included commitments to deliver a seven-day NHS and improve the quality of road surfaces.[2] Post-election, the Conservative Government currently remains committed to the plans outlined in the 2015 Spending Review, which implies a reduction in day-to-day government spending of over £10bn between 2015/16 and 2019/20.[3]

The following five chapters show what has happened to spending, scope and quality in the five public services over the past seven years, drawing on publicly available information and data on different indicators. In particular, we focus on:

  • CASH: What has happened to spending on individual services since 2010?
  • PEOPLE: How has the workforce changed since 2010 in size and morale?
  • DEMAND: How much has the need for the service changed?
  • SCOPE: What has happened to the volume of activity?
  • QUALITY: What has happened to standards and people’s experience of services?

We maintain a tight focus on ‘inputs’ (money and staff that go into a service) and ‘outputs’ (what they produce – such as operations and exam results), rather than the wider ‘outcomes’ they might be effecting (the changes they create in the world – such as improved public health and a reduction in crime).

By looking across the public sector – rather than at one service in depth – Performance Tracker provides an insight into how government is faring in the round. Chapter 7 pulls together the analysis to identify common themes and trends. We then use this to look at the relative pressures facing the Chancellor in the forthcoming Budget, and outline in Chapter 8 how he might go about addressing them.

*     Figures are for Total Managed Expenditure (TME) between 2010/11 and 2016/17 and are taken from HM Treasury’s Public Expenditure Statistical Analysis (PESA) 2017, Table 4.3.