On 8 November the government published business plans that set out in detail the work of Government for the next four years. The plans include information on department vision, how this fits with coalition priorities, structural reform plans, department expenditure and information on transparency. Taken together these lie at the very heart of the coalition’s radical agenda for accountability and transparency.
In launching the plans David Cameron spoke both of a ‘horizon shift’ and a ‘power shift’ that would “change the way that government works”.
“Instead of bureaucratic accountability to the government machine, these business plans bring in a new system of democratic accountability – accountability to the people.” This means a horizon shift to long-term government planning for the people rather than short-term political goals.
The Prime Minister also lauded the plans as a move towards greater transparency in Whitehall, part of a “power shift” giving people enough information to hold government to account.
Under the new initiative each department will have to produce a monthly progress report – and the secretary of state will have to account to the prime minister if they are not on track.
The most significant development that differentiates these from the previous government’s public service agreements is that the departments’ business plans show when they are due to start, due to end and what progress has been made.
In an example of how they can work, and create a “rod for (the governments) back”, they also shows that three projects are already overdue – two at the Cabinet Office relating to publishing details of big IT projects and guidance about the cost of IT projects, and a Ministry of Justice strategy to reduce re-offending and improve rehabilitation – which was due in October.
The potential provided by the business plans for improved accountability and continued increases in transparency is considerable. It will be interesting to see how civic society makes use of these opportunities.