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Agency analysis of the National Board of Trade (2013:20)

On behalf of the Government, Statskontoret (the Swedish Agency for Public Management) has carried out an agency analysis of the National Board of Trade. This means that we have carried out a general analysis of the Board's conditions, activities, performance and challenges.

The National Board of Trade – an agency for trade issues

The National Board of Trade is an agency for trade issues with tasks relating to foreign trade, the EU Internal Market and the EU's external trade policy. The overall assignment of the Board is to promote global free trade and free movement in the EU Internal Market. The assignment includes

  • analysing trade development and conditions
  • providing the Government with expert assistance and representing the Government in negotiations
  • promoting the proper application of the regulatory framework for the EU Internal Market through means including service functions for companies and private individuals as well as information assignments
  • engaging in international development cooperation and services export, in part by offering training in trade issues.

In 2012, the total costs for the Board's activities were SEK 96 million. The Board has about 90 employees and has offices in Stockholm.

Activities essentially function well

Statskontoret's assessment is that the activities of the National Board of Trade essentially function well. Our interviews with representatives of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs (MFA) and other key target groups, as well as the Board's own follow-up, demonstrate that the Board essentially achieves good results. The Board's management has improved activities in several ways in recent years. The areas that have been improved include the self-initiated analyses, the working method for continuous support to the Government and the work concerning the EU Internal Market.

Documentation and reports are generally of high quality

Our interviewees provide a consistent picture of the high quality of the Board's reports on trade issues. In certain areas, the Board is considered to have a prominent position also internationally. Sweden's position in trade policy is strengthened by having an independent agency that performs long-term and innovative analyses. Statskontoret believes, however, that the Board could involve the Ministry for Foreign Affairs more in the planning of which analyses are to be carried out so that they will be of even greater relevance to the Government's work.

The continuous documentation with which the Board provides the Government is generally perceived to be of high quality. However, this quality may vary slightly due to differences in employee skills and experience.

The Board's work with service functions and information assignments concerning the EU Internal Market has improved in recent years, partly as a result of the Government setting such requirements. MFA officials welcome this but believe that the work in some respects can be even better.

The Government's steering of the Board can be improved

In recent years, the Government has improved its steering of the Board, in part by streamlining the Board's instruction and appropriation directions. The MFA's informal steering of the Board's continuous support to the MFA in negotiations has also improved. However, there is still scope for improvements. Among other things, the MFA could set even more explicit priorities and implement better forward planning when requesting documentation from the Board. The MFA can also increasingly direct requests for documentation to Board managers to facilitate the Board's planning.

The Board can become better at monitoring its performance

The Board's annual report presents performance information but in most areas provides only limited assessments of how that performance corresponds to the Board's assignment and expected results. Regarding the continuous support to the Government, the Board performs no systematic studies of how officials perceive the quality of documentation. Statskontoret recommends the Board to perform follow-ups of this kind in order to obtain a better basis for developing its activities.

Statskontoret further recommends the Board to develop the analysis of how performance corresponds to the assignment in its annual report. This could include an analysis of the areas in which performance can be improved.

An integrated strategy for skills provision is needed

As an expert agency, the Board is dependent on its employees having the right skills. The Board's skills are generally perceived to be high. Generally, the Board has not experienced difficulty in recruiting personnel, except with regard to recruiting qualified analysts with long experience. Statskontoret believes, however, that it is essential for the Board management to actively work to secure skills, not least in the long term. The Board has a high proportion of temporary employees, mainly due to leaves of absence, which according to Statskontoret may make it more difficult to build up and retain skills at the Board. This partly explains the criticism levelled by some interviewees at the varying level of skills among employees.

For several years, the Board has not exhausted its appropriation, but has reported a transfer to the following period. In recent years, the limit on how much funding an agency may transfer to the following year has been exceeded. This has meant that some of the Board's funds has been withdrawn. One of several reasons for the transfer of appropriations is that the Board has been unable to recruit employees at a rate that compensates for the leaves of absence granted.

A relatively large proportion of the Board's revenue consists of funds from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency for the purposes of international development cooperation. This development cooperation creates opportunities for the Board to broaden and deepen its skills, not least through being able to employ more experts. However, there is uncertainty as to the extent of future funding, partly because the Government has not yet decided on the future direction of activities in Swedish development cooperation. Statskontoret therefore recommends the Board to assess the financial risks of potential revenue losses from the development cooperation and how this affects the ability to maintain the skills the Board has built up.

Statskontoret also recommends the Board to complete the long-running work to develop a strategy for skills provision. In connection with this work, the Board should make an overall assessment of future skills needs and the financial scope for recruitment as well as the uncertainty associated with this.

The Board does not receive sufficient information on trade barriers

The Board does not receive the information on trade barriers with which it is to be supplied by Business Sweden and foreign missions. Statskontoret recommends the Government to ensure that the Board receives this information. The Government should investigate whether it should clarify Business Sweden's assignment to assist the Board in the management of trade barriers. Furthermore, the Government should investigate the reasons why the foreign missions have not yet reported identified trade barriers to the MFA or the Board.

Insufficient justification for proposing an advisory council

The Government's assignment states that Statskontoret is to elucidate the need of attaching an advisory council to the Board. In our interviews with representatives from the MFA and from trade and industry, we have not found support for an advisory council. Statskontoret's overall assessment is that the nature of the Board's activities and the target groups' opinions do not provide sufficient justification for proposing the Government's establishment of an advisory council.