The collection of central ministerial departments that make up Whitehall play a crucial role in the government of Britain. Though small in scale relative to the wider public sector, these central departments are the principal tools that ministers use to deliver their political agenda. They form the interface between political ideas and the wide network of official bodies and mechanisms that can implement them. Whitehall is, therefore, the channel through which most central government business happens, with the bulk of government resources flowing through these central departments and out into the wider public and private sectors.

Building on the regular Whitehall Monitor analysis that the Institute has been publishing since the 2010 Spending Review, this report aims to build a systematic framework for thinking about the effectiveness of Whitehall.

The report focuses on the three elements needed to judge effectiveness: the resources Whitehall has available to it (inputs), what it does with them (outputs) and whether it achieves its goals (outcomes).

We look at the challenges faced by departmental leaders (both official and political) and at the insights the data provides on the performance of Whitehall. The report finds that while we can get compelling insights on parts of the picture, it is currently impossible to comprehensively assess Whitehall’s effectiveness.

In summary, the report shows:

Inputs: resources available to Whitehall

Whitehall has strong controls over some of its inputs, such as departmental budgets, but other resources, such as departments’ portfolios of assets, are comparatively ignored. Where the Government has set clear and ambitious plans on resource reductions (budgets and staff cuts), departments have so far succeeded in staying on track.

Outputs: managing the resources and judging Whitehall’s performance

The reforms that the Government is undertaking will fundamentally change the ways in which many departmental leaders manage the substantial resources flowing through their departments. The existing measures for tracking Whitehall’s outputs provide some insights on performance, but have limitations. The Structural Reform Plans provide little information on reforms that are off track, and many of the published objectives of permanent secretaries leave it unclear when, or on what measure, performance will be judged. The available measures also do not adequately cover departments’ ‘business as usual’ activities.

Outcomes: tracking Whitehall’s end goals

Ultimately, departmental leaders want to improve real world outcomes, but the existing tools the Government uses to track its goals are limited. Because of this, a considerable number of departmental leaders have developed their own bespoke performance reporting.

Report data

You can access the data behind the report using the Whitehall Monitor web resource.