Select Committee on Treasury Minutes of Evidence




  The review has been steered by a high level official group, including representatives from departments, the National Audit Office, a communications expert, and the Clerk to the Treasury Committee, Simon Patrick. It has considered the purpose of and readership for departmental reports, their content, and the timing of their publication.

  The aim has been to recommend how the reports can most effectively meet the needs of users by presenting the right information in the most clear, coherent, efficient and timely manner, whilst continuing to observe Parliamentary reporting obligations, and the business needs of departments.

  The review confirmed need, opportunity and desirability for change from spring 2002 onwards. Its main recommendations are:

    —  A single main report, accessible to a public readership, should be published in April. It should answer the basic questions about the department, its activities and its management of public money; who we are, what we do, what we spend money on, what we are trying to achieve and how we are doing. In answering these questions it should set out objectives and PSA targets and progress against them; and include summary information on spending programmes. It should be physically published and be available on the web.

    —  Core financial tables currently in the reports are too complicated to provide much useful information to the average reader. Simplified tables should be included in the main report with tables providing reconciliations and read across to the Estimates published with the Estimates.

  2.  Estimates should not be included in departmental reports and responsibility for publishing main and supplementary Estimates should revert to the Treasury. Main Estimates should continue to be published within 21 days of the Budget. The Treasury will explore with Parliament the scope for electronic publication, with each committee being provided with a hard copy of the Estimates it is concerned with.

    —  The audited resource accounts will be published as soon as possible after the end of the financial year, probably in the autumn. Treasury will look further at the supporting commentary on operating and financial performance, which is needed to provide context for the accounts.

    —  Departments should also publish supplementary performance information alongside the accounts, recording progress against their PSA targets. This will update information published in the annual report.

    —  Departments should have greater flexibility over the content and format of reports, within a framework of common core requirements ensuring necessary consistency between departments, continuity between years and objectivity in reporting performance.

    —  Where organisations have a statutory or other obligation to produce an annual report at a specific time we should avoid requiring them to duplicate material in a separate departmental report.

    —  In general smaller departments should publish their own report unless they specifically wish to be brigaded with others.

    —  Main reports say enough about the activities of small departments and agencies to give a clear picture of the management of the programme the department is responsible for. In particular, where small departments and agencies contribute to achieving a PSA target, the main report should describe their contribution. The Treasury will consult the Cabinet Office to make sure this fits with the guidance on agency reporting.

    —  The production of annual reports should be integrated with the business planning process. Relaxation of the publication deadline, of the rules about agency and small department reporting and the autumn performance reports should help this. The Treasury will consult the Cabinet Office to make sure the guidance fits with their guidance on business planning.

    —  Departments should come together informally in a collaborative forum, to identify and share best practice drawing on their own experience and examples outside of central government.

    —  A general principle throughout is that Departments should not use any of these changes to withhold information currently published in which there is public interest. The aim is to get useful information in an accessible form to the people who need it. In particular Parliament should have access to all the information it has now.

HM Treasury

August 2001

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