During the recent opening speech of the new session of the National Assembly, the Prime Minister, in setting the main objectives of his government, placed great emphasis on results. It wants concrete achievements that will mark significant progress, sector of intervention by sector of intervention. We can only agree with this wish.
It also fits perfectly with the Public Administration Law (LAP). It has created a management framework that emphasizes the performance of government departments and agencies in achieving results based on pre-established objectives, made public and measured using indicators. And the presidents of the Treasury Board report each year on the progress made in implementing results-based management.
The problem is that this reform is still far from complete, because the link with the budget remains largely untapped. Nowhere in the budget documents is there a link between the objectives pursued and the amounts allocated to them. How can we know if the money that we add to public credits makes it possible to achieve the results that we are looking for if we do not know the cost of the services to be rendered?
Disconnect between strategic and budgetary planning
The Secretariat of the Conseil du trésor defines budgetary programs as “a coherent and structured set of objectives, resources and activities allowing the production of goods and services aimed at meeting one or more specific needs of a targeted population. “. They can take different forms: projects, services, initiatives, interventions, strategies or action plans. A given program is therefore associated with a hierarchical presentation of the objectives pursued, whether operational or strategic, following a logical sequence of results to be achieved.
The Public Administration Law provides for the tabling in the National Assembly of an integrated set of documents, namely the Strategic Plan, the Annual Expenditure Management Plan and the Annual Management Report, all with a view to accountability to parliamentarians and in the purpose of facilitating their role of supervising the administration.
One would therefore expect that the budgets presented to the National Assembly reflect this provision and that it would be possible to see for what purposes the appropriations are voted and what results are sought. It is however nothing. These three important documents, having no common denominators, are not established on the same basis and do not fit together well, so that it is difficult to draw a clear picture of the links between the funding granted and the objectives pursued by the programs.
It follows that this disconnection of strategic and budgetary planning makes the work of parliamentarians (who seek to understand the added value of the appropriations they vote) particularly difficult.
The search for greater budget transparency
Understanding budget data starts with looking at public management and the services provided by government. How can we judge the government’s choice of priorities if we know nothing about public programs? These are the vehicles that transfer to the needs of the citizens the monetary levies of which they have been the object. Do they correspond to the wishes of the population? Are they up to the commitments made by the government? The annual reports of the presidents of the Conseil du trésor tell us that few departments are able to determine the budgetary scope of their strategic orientations.
Take the example of the Ministry of Health and Social Services, which receives roughly half of the credits allocated by the government to budgetary programs. Nowhere in the aforementioned documents is there a way to make the link between resources and results. How to know, in this context, if the allocation for example of an additional budget of 100 or 300 million to home care is relevant? Admittedly, this is a priority, but it is unclear what impact this financial addition will have on operational objectives.
It will therefore be impossible to say at the end of the year whether this increased budget of hundreds of millions of dollars has made it possible to significantly improve service delivery.
If we want to ensure optimal use of State resources, we must be able to know the cost price of public services, that is to say all the direct and indirect costs borne to produce these services. This knowledge, in the Quebec public administration, is fragmented today, despite some progress. It is however necessary to increase the relevance, efficiency and effectiveness of public interventions.
Towards results-based budgeting
The documents produced under the LAP make few links with the structure of the programs and the elements of the budget programs, so that it is difficult to see how the budget allocations that are made improve performance and give the expected results.
The articulation of the budgetary architecture of the programs and the results-based management desired by the LAP constitutes a kind of prerequisite for a public budgeting more oriented towards taking into account the results to be achieved.
To achieve the results desired by the Prime Minister, it is not enough to increase the budgets of the departments, we must first ensure that we are doing the maximum with what we already have. Then, see what an addition of resources would do. It is still necessary to be able to count on an adequate junction of the strategic objectives and the budgetary programs.