PUBLIC TRUST OFFICE: UNCLAIMED BALANCES
HELD IN FUNDS IN COURT AND THE OFFICE'S 1998-99 ACCOUNTS
THE LACK OF OVERSIGHT BY THE DEPARTMENT
31. In the light of the Comptroller and Auditor's
General reports on the weaknesses in the Agency's financial management,
we asked the Department about their oversight of the Agency. The
Department accepted that this could have been more effective,
and identified three areas where they could have been more proactive.
32. First, they acknowledged that they should have
been more rigorous in checking that recommendations made in the
Committee's 1994 report were implemented. The need to collect
and review receivers' accounts more promptly should have been
covered by a Key Performance Indicator for the Agency, and the
gaps in the underlying financial and accounting framework should
have been addressed. The Agency confirmed that recommendations
from the Committee's 1999 report had now been reflected in its
Key Performance Indicators.
33. Second, they should have thought more imaginatively
about ways to address the problems of the Agency's fee structure.
The Committee's 1994 report criticised the situation where private
receivership fees subsidised Public Trustee receivership fees,
and higher income clients subsidised lower income clients. Increasing
fees was difficult because of the nature of the Agency's clients,
but the Agency could only invest in better management if fees
were increased. The Department suggested that they and the Agency
should have been more active in seeking solutions to this problem.
34. Third, the Department recognised that the Agency
had been under-managed in terms of the range of senior skills
and staff in the different areas of its activities. The Department
had not made sufficient resources available to enable the Agency
to invest in information technology.
35. The Lord Chancellor's Department acknowledged
that it should have done more to review the Agency's actions in
response to our recommendations dating from 1994. The key performance
indicator regime provides an opportunity for monitoring an Agency's
actions, particularly on key aspects of service to the public.
The Agency has confirmed that recommendations from our 1999 report
are now reflected in its performance targets.
36. Parent departments should exercise effective
oversight of the operations of their Agencies. Supervision of
the Public Trust Office by the Lord Chancellor's Department should
have been more rigorous. In particular the Department allowed
the Agency to operate without an adequate range of senior management
skills, and failed to make available sufficient resources for
investment in information technology. The Department could have
shown greater leadership in helping the Agency think more imaginatively
about the management of its operations.
32 Evidence, Q8 Back
Qs 8, 15, 20 Back
Qs 4, 8 Back