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Tom Ferris, Economist

Focused Policy Assessment (FPA) is a new tool being used to assess specific areas of public expenditures. It is not a tool that will change the world, but used intelligently it can pinpoint where changes are required in particular public expenditure programmes. Moreover, it complements tools such as Cost Benefit Analysis and Value-for-Money Reviews that have been around for some time. The new tool has been introduced by the Department for Public Expenditure and Reform in its Public Spending Code – http://publicspendingcode.per.gov.ie/

Public Spending Code

The Public Spending Code states that– “Building upon the experience of the 2011 Comprehensive Review of Expenditure (CRE), the full VFM & Policy Reviews will … be complemented with sharper and more narrowly focused assessments designed to answer specific issues of policy configuration and deliver.”  The FPAs are required to address specific issues relating to the delivery of individual public expenditure policies. The types of assessment most suitable for FPAs are:

-Cross-cutting issues of relevance to one or more department;

-Evaluation of a discrete expenditure programme – to answer specific questions of programme design and delivery by reference to one or more evaluation criteria, and

-Preliminary evaluation of more complex programmes that may  result in the need for full Value-for-Money Policy Reviews.

The Code suggests that FCAs should have tightly framed terms of reference focusing on specific policy areas. The number of evaluators should be limited; either one or two . Moreover, they should skip on having a steering committee. The responsibility for the FPAs evaluation should be under the management of the relevant departmental officials. Finally, the FPAs should be completed within tight timeframes, e.g. three months, and they should always be published.

Published FPAs

FPAs are being published on the  Irish Government Economic and Evaluation Service (IGEES)  http://igees.gov.ie/about-us/ . This service is an integrated cross-Government service, established in 2012, and designed to enhance the role of economics and value for money analysis in public policy making.

Over the past year, four FPAs have been published.They are: –

·Focused Policy Assessment of Green-Schools Travel Programme, February 2015;

·Focused Policy Assessment on Pobal, August 2014;

·Focused Policy Assessment of Early Childhood Education and the ECCE Scheme, April 2014, and

·Focused Policy Assessment of the Rural Social Scheme, January 2014.

An examination of these FPAs shows that the assessments are quite focused. They pull no punches. They list shortcomings, where they exist; they seek evidence of performance targets being linked to objectives, and greater clarity in the measurement of outcomes.

Some Conclusions

While it is still early days to evaluate success, a recent IPAreport has argued that FPAs should concentrate on specific, identified aspects of effectiveness and/or efficiency. Richard Boyle in that IPA report, on the ‘The State of Policy Evaluation in Ireland’,also recommends that there should be periodic examinations of the evaluation regime, by both the Comptroller and Auditor General and Department for Public Expenditure and Reform. These examinations should focus on thequality of the evaluative evidence produced by FPAs.

While some will argue that the FPAs published to date, have been unduly sharp in their criticism, it does not get away from the fact that this a new tool being used effectively to analyse public policies.  As Minister Brendan Howlin argued in a speech last October  that FPAs – “…are designed to answer specific issues of policy configuration or delivery and complement the more extensive Value for Money evaluations that…examine the full range of VfM questions such as rationale, efficiency and effectiveness”. Today, more than ever before, there is a need for FPAs and other tools to help ensure how best to allocate resources and to adjust policies, where necessary, so that taxpayers are getting real value-for-money.

Upcoming seminars at Public Affairs Ireland:

Policy Development, Legislative Drafting , & the Legislative Process- April 23rd & 30th