The Institute believes the Business Plans represent a positive step towards a more open and transparent form of government. However, there is still a long way to go to achieve the Prime Minister's ambitions.
The Business Plans were published in full last November. One year on, the plans are still evolving but outside Whitehall, few people are aware of them. Neither Parliament, the media nor other intermediary groups have made more than limited use of the information that they contain.
In See-through Whitehall, the Institute has concluded that there are some practical issues which need to be addressed if the Business Plans are ever to prove usable by the public and enhance democratic accountability:
- The reform priorities and actions should be clearly linked to measures showing whether they have achieved the intended outcomes. There are outcome measures in the Business Plans (‘Impact Indicators') but currently these are not linked up to the reform priorities. The ministerial ambition to deliver "click through" business plans where users could go from top level priorities to detailed actions and outcomes is still a long way off.
- The scope of the plans is still unclear so it is difficult to tell what the data is actually telling you. For example, in some places they only look at a department's reform priorities whereas in others they look at the whole of the department's business.
- Data is not presented in a consistent format and is not available in one place. For example, where progress has slipped on actions, users of the plans have to seek explanations from a different set of documents provided monthly by departments.
- The data is difficult to analyse. For example, actions are not given a ‘unique reference number' that enables them to be tracked effectively.