Letter to the Chairman of the Committee
from the Rt Hon Andrew Smith MP, Chief Secretary to HM Treasury
I wrote to Giles Radice on 17 October 2000 to
let him know of our intention to review the departmental reports
with users and producers to see how they can be improved. This
letter sets out the conclusions of that review, and our proposed
arrangements for reporting in spring 2002.
2. I invited Parliament's participation in this
review, and I am very grateful to Simon Patrick, Clerk of the
Committee, for taking part. (He, and the other Committee Clerks
who have been consulted have been careful to explain that they
could only give a personal view in the absence of formally constituted
committees over the Election period.)
3. An outline of the proposals is attached.
The review has confirmed that there is a pressing need for change.
The reports are a vital part of the process of departmental accountability
to Parliament and the public. They are resource intensive to produce,
and now total over 3,500 pages in length. Yet they often do not
present performance and financial information in a clear and accessible
way. Both producers and consumers are dissatisfied.
4. I would accordingly like to change the
framework under which the spring 2002 reports are produced. The
review has recommended retention of a report in spring which gives
a full picture of each department's organisation, aims and objectives,
performance, and use of resources. Within a framework of core
requirements, departments will be given greater freedom to produce
streamlined, clearly presented reports accessible to a wider audience.
Reports will contain a reduced set of financial tables setting
out clearly what the money is spent on. Estimates would be published
separately by the Treasury, and would include reconciliations
to the departmental report tables.
5. In the autumn departments would publish
resource accounts including further contextual information. In
addition departments would be asked to publish supplementary performance
information updating that in the spring report.
6. I recognise that this is a shift in emphasis
from the approach to reporting set out in recent memoranda on
RAB which envisaged a forward looking report including the Estimates
in the spring and a backward looking report based on the accounts
in the autumn. The approach outlined here retains the basic feature
of a spring and autumn phase in the reporting cycle, but it groups
the information somewhat differently.
7. The lead time for preparing the spring
2002 reports requires departments to start work now, but I recognise
that Parliament may not be able to give a view until towards the
end of the year. So I am proposing that Departments are advised
to work on the basis of this model as an interim measure for the
2002 reports, that we take account of comments from Committees
in doing so, and then take stock with Parliament in the light
of experience with these reports on the best way forward for the
8. I do want to stress that the proposals
should not reduce the information available to Parliament. Supplementary
tables in or alongside the Estimates will provide the detail necessary
for full read across from Estimates for budgeting controls, and
9. I believe the prize will be a set of
reports which give Parliament and the citizen a much clearer and
more accessible account of the business of government.
10. I would welcome your views and those
of copy recipients.
11. If you and members of the Committee
would like a briefing on the proposals I would be very happy to
arrange this. I am copying this letter to the Chairman of the
Public Accounts Committee, and the Chairman of the Procedure Committee.
16 October 2001