Starting Government Targets from Scratch

Tom Gash Institute of Government

Cameron’s pledge to replace targets and ‘bureaucratic accountability’ was always ambitious. But as political frustration with the pace of change grows Government seems to be increasingly tempted to reach for targets which jerk the system into action.

The problem, however, is that lessons from the past are not being learnt. What the Labour years taught us is that targets can ‘work’ – in that if they are attached to rewards and sanctions people will up their efforts to meet the objective set. Hardly anyone would argue that targets hadn’t successfully reduced hospital waiting lists: precisely why the Coalition is hanging onto them.

But we also learnt you can hit the target but miss the point – as Cameron’s initial critique clearly acknowledged. If all the police are following up community ASBO claims (which you could argue that they should be doing anyway!) what aren’t they doing? …

What’s needed is a much more sophisticated approach to performance management and evaluation in government – not the ad hoc targetry and monitoring that is currently emerging. Over the years, Labour gradually improved its approach to performance assessment, setting up and gradually improving Whitehall Capability Reviews, Public Service Agreements and Local Area Agreements.

But, while these efforts were very far from perfect, the Coalition – having jettisoned most of the Labour machinery – feels like it is starting from scratch. Whitehall’s departmental business plans focus too much on tracking government’s activities rather than measuring whether they provide value for money. And today’s ad hoc announcements similarly neglect the questions of value for money and overall departmental performance that are so critical in these times of rapid expenditure reduction.

The Government is beginning to take steps to develop a more holistic and considered approach, having recently set up a new government unit dedicated to understanding whether the Coalition’s reform agenda is being delivered. The question, however, is whether this new unit can (or will) learn the lessons of history. If not, there is another bite at the cherry. In June, the Government will publish its broader civil service reform plan. Today’s Institute report Improving Decision Making in Whitehall argues that government urgently needs to develop a coherent and effective system for assessing departmental performance and for holding civil servants to account for the value for money that they deliver. If it does not put it in place soon, the Government may well recreate the kind of messy bureaucracy it promised to eliminate.

Griff Rhys Jones ‘The Government Panicked’ over #NPPF

In this weeks Radio times

‘The Government panicked. The planning regulations were torn up. Our sense of priorities warped before our very eyes.’

‘It is not elitist to care about the countryside. It is not old-fashioned. It is not the preserve of old-age pensioners, or out-of-touch aesthetes, or little Englanders, or sentimentalists, or soppy nature worshippers or selfish nimbyists to require that this balance endures, and that our government ensures that it does.’

Cambridge Local Plan – May have to develop up to 12,300 Homes in the Green Belt #NPPF

Cambridge City Council is about to publish its issues and options paper for its local plan review – it goes to committee 29th May and consultation from 15th June.  It offers a glimpse of issues regarding an underbounded rapidly growing Green Belt city (in which class we may also put Oxford and York) in the NPPF world.

Cambridgeshire authorities have issues a joint statement to carry forward the growth strategy of the RSS to 2030, and the current development plans (a complex mix of old style local plan, core strategy (for south Cambridgeshire) and two joint area action plans) carry that forward.  However

Due to the closely drawn administrative boundary around Cambridge the Council is working closely with South Cambridgeshire District Council to consider the needs of the wider area, and both Councils will need to decide whether the current spatial strategy approach for the Cambridge area remains the most appropriate to 2031 or whether an
alternative would be more sustainable…a key issue for consideration at this stage is to explore the principle of whether there should be more development on the edge of Cambridge and whether exceptional circumstances exist to justify the release of further land from the Green Belt to meet the housing and employment needs of the area.

The current development strategy for the Cambridge Area dates back to 1999, with the work done by Cambridge Futures,  so it is long overdue a review.

Options for the revised strategy stem from the Cambridgeshire Development Strategy, a joint approach prepared in 2009 as input to the abortive RSS review.  The review has simply proposed rolling forward the current strategy embodied in the Cambridge 2006 local plan.

The part of the issues and options paper dealing with strategy is here, however despite the considerable length of the paper it does state how these relate to ‘objectively identified need’ as set out in the NPPF, rather it takes the ‘rolled forward’ levels as given rather than looking at the latest information on household formation and housing need.  The SHMA data is rather out of date, dating from 2008, and with an almost exclusive focus on affordable housing.

Four options are set out for new housing:

– 12,700 new homes, 10,612 of which are existing commitments and 2,060 on other sites in the city

– up to 14,000 new homes, the 12,700 plus 1,300 in the green belt

– up to 21,000 new homes, including 8,300 in the green belt

– up to 25,000 new homes, including 12,300 in the green belt

By contrast the RSS proposed 14,000 homes and 20,000 jobs for the period 2011 to 2031.  These four options are capacity based options, not need based, with the 25,000 based on building out all of the ‘Broad Options’ identified.  The 20,000 figure, based on the latest forecast from Cambridge Econometrics, is considered a ‘high growth’ forecast.

But with Cambridge you can’t just consider issues of need from people living locally because of the huge levels of daily commuting.

I have to say I find the way the report is set out is very confusing.  Surely the questions to ask first is what are the housing and employment needs of the Greater Cambridge Area based on the latest evidence, then look at the strategic options for meeting this need.  Then to look at options in, on the edge of and around Cambridge for meeting this need as well as the transport impacts and options for servicing this level of development.  This could include urban extensions/Garden Suburbs as well as New settlement/Garden City options such as at Waterbeach Barracks and options on other rail routes out of Cambridge.

But rather than a sub-regional approach we have a purely local approach with ‘overspill’ into South Cambridgeshire, with the options chosen according to capacity issues alone.

The response back from consultation is predictable, dont build on the Green Belt, you dont need to because previous employment forecasts were excessive and so now you dont need to build so many homes.

The response from others would be that problems of excessive inward commuting, lack of affordable housing and high house prices demand more housing even with reduced employment projection, and in any event Cambridge is a key focus for growth, so Cambridge and Cambridgeshire need to continue and extend the growth approach.

The risk is that the consultation could simply result in stalemate.  If you are proposing an ‘exceptional circumstance’ loss of Green Belt through a development plan you will need to demonstrate that sites outside of the Green Belt have been considered and rejected.  This hasn’t been done.

The second thing I find deeply unsatisfactory about the document is that in presenting the options in a purely site by site way it fails to make the case for a joined up plan for the city as a whole.  Good plans may have to include some difficult sites, but you can argue that the city as a whole benefits through its joined up approach towards urban design, landscape enhancement, new transport connections etc. which major developments could enable.  This was part of the visionary thrust of the Cambridge Futures process, and of course the ‘golden age’ of town plans from the likes of Vernon, Sitte, and Unwin.  This is not being nostalgic.  Planning will only attract flack and be continually weakened if it becomes a narrow technical site by site exercise as opposed to a visionary approach of spatial solutions both for cities and wider sub-regions.