Permanent secretaries’ objectives notionally form the basis for their performance management. They are used by the Cabinet Secretary or the Head of the Civil Service – the permanent secretaries are managed between them – as the basis for permanent secretaries’ annual appraisal discussions and pay awards. At that classic ‘hope you miss this’ time, the Friday afternoon before Christmas, the permanent secretary objectives for 2013-14 were finally published – almost nine months into the year to which they apply. Given the time obviously taken in agreeing them, has this made a significant difference to their quality? Unfortunately the answer is no. The average number of objectives remains infeasibly high – 18 per permanent secretary. In many cases, these objectives themselves are little more than cross-references – “contributing to the Civil Service Reform Programme” is a recurring example – so it is not really possible to tell what the individual is supposed to be doing. (And rather surprisingly given the time taken to prepare them, some measures remain “to be agreed”.) The variation in formatting, also a feature of last year’s objectives, remains a pain for anyone trying to analyse the objectives themselves. But our analysis does reveal some minor improvements […]

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