Skip to main content

Performance Tracker A data-driven analysis of the performance of government

Government has clearly succeeded in controlling spending over the past six years, but levels of spending are only part of the story. They tell us little about the cost and demand pressures facing the service (for example, the National Living Wage has increased staff costs in adult social care, while an ageing population means that more and more people require the service). Differences between changes in spending and changes in pressure on services must be met by making economies (for example, holding down staff pay), improving productivity (for example, using technology to enable staff) or reducing scope or quality (for example, rationing access to certain services).

To understand how government has performed, we need to dig deeper to examine what it has actually delivered for the money it has spent.

Tracking performance of key public services

Given the varying scale of the issues faced by different public services, how have they performed? Have they risen to the challenge of filling the spending ‘gap’ by finding economies and raising productivity? Or have they reduced their scope or allowed a diminution in quality? Put crudely, who is right: those that have argued that this is an efficiency agenda or those that argue it is all about cuts? And what does this tell us about what will happen going forward?

This report is a first attempt to answer these questions across a range of services. Performance Tracker uses publicly available data to identify where both the Coalition and current Conservative Governments succeeded in achieving their ambitions to control spending and maintain scope and quality. It also shows where the current Government faces the greatest pressure – where it is overspending or seeing services deteriorate, and where it risks doing both at the same time. This analysis sheds light on the heated, but opaque, debate about whether our public services are at breaking point or whether there is room for more efficiency.

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.

This Performance Tracker focuses on five public services: hospitals, adult social care and schools (in England), prisons and the police (covering England and Wales). These were selected to provide variety in terms of the scale of the spending challenge (ranging from a real-terms reduction of 21% in prisons to an increase of 15% for hospitals), but consistency in terms of the importance of the service to the public.