Public Sector – Government stalls on PSAs

The government is resisting pressure to require the National Audit Office to validate the public service agreements that govern operational relationships between Whitehall departments and agencies.

The intention to establish PSAs – statements of the aims and objectives of the various parts of government, the resources available and the performance expected – was announced in the comprehensive spending review last July.

But in evidence to a Commons Treasury committee inquiry into progress with PSAs, chief secretary Alan Milburn raised objections to giving the NAO ‘responsibility for auditing output and performance analyses as a whole’.

MPs on the committee were alarmed by the government’s stance. They said: ‘The figures reported for progress against quantifiable targets need to be made credible by being externally validated.’

They said the best body to do this was the NAO, co-ordinating with the Audit Commission over local government and the NHS.

They also made it clear that a bureaucratic objection based on work on standards not being complete ‘does not, in our view, give grounds for delay’.

The NAO itself has said: ‘It would be a natural part of the comptroller and auditor general’s role to provide an opinion on the reliability of the annual statement of the outputs and outcomes achieved by departments.

But Milburn said giving the NAO responsibility for PSAs might be inappropriate because it could become embroiled in target setting and may trespass on the Audit Commission’s territory.

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