SNP MINISTERS decided not to set detailed targets on their own performance as they would be "dangerous and fraught with difficulties", official archives reveal.

Cabinet papers released online by the National Records of Scotland show the discussions of Alex Salmond's SNP minority government in the months after it took office in 2007.

The disclosure coincides with Nicola Sturgeon facing growing demands to sack Health Secretary Humza Yousaf over missed targets on A&E waits and other NHS measures.

The archive files are being made available free of charge through the NRS ancestry research website ScotlandsPeople. They include discussions on Glasgow's Commonwealth Games bid for 2014, the Lockerbie bomber, the Glasgow Airport terror attack, and a failing plan to replace council tax.

Now The Herald can reveal a Cabinet discussion from October 2007 in which ministers shied away from setting targets that could later be held against them. It followed then Finance Secretary John Swinney presenting a paper to the Cabinet on a "proposed performance framework" for the Scottish Government, including "proposed outcomes, indicators and targets for agreement".

He said the previous Labour-Liberal Democrat administration had "come under repeated criticism by the Finance Committee for its many and inconsistent targets" and was "therefore proposing a tighter and less complex structure".

He said that Holyrood's Finance Committee would "take a poor view of a framework that did not include measurable targets".

The Government's top official, the permanent secretary Sir John Elvidge, said "the key choice facing Cabinet concerned how to strike the best balance in the design of targets". One option was to commit mainly to influencing the "direction of movement of key indicators"; the other was "specifically defined outcomes within a predefined timescale".

Sir John said the latter, "although potentially attractive to Parliament … was not without risks and had, in some past instances, led to distortion of the intended policy aim".


IN discussion, ministers said: "Measuring direction of movement was useful, but the inclusion of detailed targets was dangerous and fraught with difficulties.

"Targets that were known to be unachievable, or unachievable within some geographical localities and targets over which the Government did not exercise control, were likely to prove particularly problematic in the longer term. There would be a need for clarity about what the Government wished to include in what would effectively be seen as its contract with the Scottish public. Some targets would be useful in ensuring effective service delivery, but were not appropriate for inclusion in this framework.

"It would be important to achieve a balance in the framework, ensuring that it was sufficiently robust to satisfy the Finance Committee and to provide adequate direction to local government, but sufficiently flexible to avoid becoming burdensome."

" Mr Salmond ended by drumming into ministers the risk involved in setting specfic targets, with a hint that they would have to shoulder the blame if targets were missed. The minutes state: "In summing up, the First Minister said that precise targets should only be set where Cabinet Secretaries clearly understood their implications and were content that the Government should be held to account for achieving them.

"This was a matter for individual Cabinet Secretaries, who should re-examine the indicators and target pertaining to their own portfolios, and confirm their position to Mr Swinney as soon as possible."