Tracking the Statement of Strategy for Transport
The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport published its Statement of Strategy in December 2016, which serves as the Department’s framework for action covering years 2016-19. Economist Tom Ferris looks at how these strategies and goals are monitored and tracked in the area of transport, aviation and maritime, from their conception to their implementation.
Government Departments have responsibility for delivering the commitments that are set-out in Programmes for Government. Under the Public Service Management Act 1997, each Government Department is required to prepare a Strategy Statement within six months of the appointment of a new Minister. These statements serve as frameworks for action by Departments.
Obviously Government Departments have acquired good experience in producing strategy statements in the course of the past twenty years. What is different about the current statements is that they are prepared in the face of much greater economic and fiscal challenges than previously.
They have been prepared (and will have to be delivered) with reduced resources and increased demands, as the gap between revenue and expenditure in the public finances continues to be addressed. At the same time, departments have to do much more in helping to create conditions in the economy that can foster economic growth, contribute to fiscal stability and stimulate employment growth.
Accountability to the Oireachtas
Deciding the strategies and the goals is only part of the process. Departments have also to specify what outcomes they hope to achieve. Having good output targets – performance measures or indicators – makes it possible to measure the extent to which goals are being achieved. It is interesting to note that the current Programme for Government gives a bigger role to the Oireachtas in the preparation of Statements of Strategy.
Oireachtas members, as representatives of the public, have a responsibility to ensure that Departments deliver on their commitments.
Measuring success of Strategy Statements
The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport has set high level goals to be achieved in the transport sector over the next three years in the areas of land transportation, aviation and maritime.
Land Transport: to best serve the needs of society and the economy through safe, sustainable and competitive transport networks and services.
Aviation: to maximise air transport connectivity with a safe, competitive, cost-effective and sustainable aviation sector.
Maritime: to facilitate safe and sustainable maritime transport and the delivery of emergency management services.
The extent to which these goals can be seen to have succeeded (or failed) depends on the how well outputs for each sector can be measured. Where possible, Departments should identify easily quantifiable indicators or milestones that can be used to evaluate progress. So what indicators did the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport produce for transport for the years 2016 through 2019?
Table 1 provides an overview of 18 indicators – nine for maritime, seven for land transport and two for aviation.
Some of the measures can be tracked fairly easily, when it comes to reviewing progress. For example, the performance measures, “Five Ports of Regional Significance transferred to Local Authority control by end-2018” or “Reduction in the number of fatalities and serious injuries on Irish roads in line
with the targets set in the Road Safety Strategy 2013-2020” are very specific.
In the case of some of the other performance measures, either they are too general or will not easily be identifiable in specific output terms. For example, how does an Oireachtas Committee decide whether the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport has in fact achieved success under a target such as “development of a rail strategy”?
Admittedly, it is not always easy to identify relevant performance measures for each and every strategy. Nevertheless, each performance measure should be able to tell a story about whether a Department is achieving its objectives and if progress is being made towards attaining policy or organisational goals set-out in its Statement of Strategy.
The current strategy statements are the start of a new cycle of reporting. Each Department’s progress will continue to be monitored by Oireachtas Committees, through annual reports on the strategies that are required to be published.
It should be clear from such reports whether or not objectives and strategies are being achieved and especially if performance indicators are being met (or not being met). It is important that the performance indicators that are used are consistent with the indicators used in the Annual Output Statements that are produced separately by Departments.
As well as indicating areas of improvement, progress reports should set out reasons for targets not being met as well as listing problems encountered. The taxpayers have a right to know the successes (and the failures) in the roll-out of public expenditure.
Tom Ferris is a consultant economist. He was formerly the Senior Economist at the Department of Transport.