Taking aim at...what exactly?

Update 16.40

A pretty lively press conference with the First Minister and his advisers, where the word "target" was put to him quizzically and forcefully many times.

The upshot is this (as far as I understand it): that next May an annual report will be published that will contain the latest statistics for health, education and so on. Then, the following year, another annual report will be published, again with the latest statistics, which will enable the Welsh citizenry to work out how well their government is doing.

Well yes, came the lobby's response, but without benchmarks, without that government spelling out exactly what IT regards as success or failure - setting that promised target - then how are those citizens meant to decide whether a five per cent improvement here or a one per cent improvement there is good, bad or indifferent?

Voters will get to see all the figures and decide for themselves how we've done, was the response. The lobby remained bemused.

A target is something to be aimed at, or for. If the government was aiming for a transparent, user-friendly guide to success and failure, this document, the opposition parties are busy telling us, is weak, disappointing and wide of the mark.


Yesterday the First Minister was talking targets.

In fact standing outside Liverpool's conference centre, just before Carwyn Jones left the Labour conference for Cardiff, he and I talked about little else.

Labour's programme for government, "will contain targets" he said. "It will contain ways in which those targets can be measured because I want people in 2016 to look at that document and say: judge these people against what they've done, not what they said they'd do, but what they've done."

That programme for government has now been published and I'll save you the trouble of typing 'target' and pressing the 'find' key. The word does appear in the document many times. There are references to "targeted trade missions", "ensuring that grants are targeted to incentivise local government delivery" and "targeting action to improve public health".

But "measurable targets" that patients, doctors, nurses, pupils, parents, anyone who cares enough can check?

In every chapter there's a section entitled "How will we know that our actions are on track?"

Here's an example from the section on health:

How will we know that our actions are on track?

Improving health outcomes by ensuring the quality and safety of services is enhanced:

• % of patients with a care plan for mental health, cancer and long-term conditions.

• Number of healthcare acquired infections.

• % achievement on 31+62 day cancer target.

• % achievement on 24/7 access to stroke thrombolysis.

• % compliance against our four acute stroke bundles.

So indicators of success? Plenty of those.

Measurable targets? An actual figure next to those percentage signs? It would seem not.

The First Minister is still on his feet. Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats have already asked him where the promised targets, the percentages, the numbers are that will show whether his government has done well or badly. The "targets" - if they can be called that - are "meaningless, absolutely meaningless" is Kirsty Williams' verdict.

The government might yet explain how these "indicators" can be translated into robust targets that will tell voters what they want to know - and what they were promised - which is whether the government will have got to where it said it intended to get by May 2016. This document alone doesn't appear to do it.

Last night I said that with a pledge to publish measurable targets Carwyn Jones was either making himself a hostage to fortune, or paving the way to victory in the next election. Let's just say that if you go on the hunt for 'hostages to fortune' in this document, it appears the negotiators have already been hard at work.