Special Report 56 - Improving Performance - Public Service Case Studies

Published on 20 April 2007


The Comptroller and Auditor General has previously reviewed the outcome of Value for Money reporting in the period 1994 to 1996. The results are set out in Report Number 32.

Subsequently, the Comptroller and Auditor General completed a further 21 reports up to 31 December 2000. These reports contained findings in relation to a wide variety of performance issues. The Comptroller and Auditor General considered that it would be worthwhile to review the extent to which organisations have addressed the concerns highlighted in those reports. While the reports have been considered by the Committee of Public Accounts, no formal report was issued by the Committee on the matters concerned.

This follow-up report reviews the outcome in the case of 17 reports. Four reports were not included in the follow-up.

  • Administration of Premium Headage Grant Applications – this report is not included because the basis of farm supports has fundamentally altered in the meantime.
  • Year 2000 Compliance Projects – this report was concerned with a one-off issue.

  • The Development of the National Roads Network – this matter was subsequently reviewed in a Special Report (Number 6) on the Primary Routes Improvement Programme.

  • Central Bank Financial Regulation – A review of Financial Regulation is currently being finalised.

Most of the 17 reports reviewed focussed on specific projects or programmes – however, two were concerned with cross-cutting issues that impacted on all Departments and Offices. These related to training and development in the Civil Service and the management of consultancies. One report examined the arrangements for effectiveness evaluation across a single organisation - Teagasc.

Since the Comptroller and Auditor General received a statutory mandate to review value for money performance in 1994, there have been considerable developments in public service modernisation under the general umbrella of the Strategic Management Initiative (SMI).

The objectives of the SMI, which was launched in 1994, were that the public service should enhance its contribution to national development, provide excellent services that meet recipients’ needs in a timely and efficient manner and use available resources to best effect. The aim of the SMI was to improve service delivery by introducing a requirement for Departments to formally set out their strategic objectives and improve the management of the service outputs that achieve them. The initial focus was to acquire the skills for strategic management and organisational development.

Delivering Better Government (DBG), in 1996, expanded the scope of the SMI modernisation programme to other areas that form part of what the OECD has referred to as "the levers of change". These were financial management, human resource management, information systems management, quality customer service, regulatory reform and openness, transparency and accountability. DBG was a response to a call from government for a review of the systems for decision-making, allocating responsibility and ensuring accountability. The review was intended to lead to an integrated programme to modernise the systems and practices in question and the consequent modernisation of existing personnel and financial management in the Civil Service.

Between 1997 and 2000, which is the period covered by the Value for Money reports, the modernising initiatives were still largely under development. The passing of the Public Service Management Act, 1997, introduced the practice for Departments to prepare Statements of Strategy and business plans. In the same year, the Expenditure Review Initiative was launched. Significant initiatives in financial management (the Management Information Framework (MIF)) and in human resource management (the Performance Management and Development System (PMDS)) were launched in 1999 and 2000. In the last six years there have been notable improvements in the use of information technology for service delivery in many areas, including the Revenue Commissioners, the Department of Social and Family Affairs and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. The work of performance verification groups seeks to ensure that pay elements included in partnership agreements are justified by real improvements in services.

It will take time for these initiatives to bear fruit. Chapter 2 reviews the response of Departments and Offices to the findings in Value for Money reports both in terms of process change and wider structural adjustments associated with the modernisation drive.

At this point, the results of the Comptroller and Auditor General's follow-up review suggest that while considerable progress has been achieved work remains to be done in order to realise the vision of more efficient and effective public services.


The review was conducted in two stages

  • organisations were queried on their response to findings in the original reports

  • these responses were the subject of follow-up correspondence and discussions with the organisation.

A reference partner – Epsilon Consulting was used to advise on the examination approach and quality assure the report content.

Structure of the Report

This report examines the outcome of the Comptroller and Auditor General's follow-up review. The results are set out in the chapters that follow.

  • Chapter 2 examines the general response to those value for money concerns highlighted in the original reports and also sets out what the review has found in relation to public service modernisation and the evolution of delivery systems.

  • Chapters 3 to 17 review the outcome of each individual programme focussing on the key value for money issues identified and the responses to them.

  • Chapters 18 and 19 examine the response by Departments and Offices to my findings in the areas of consultancy support, and training and development of staff in the Civil Service.