Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80
TUESDAY 6 NOVEMBER 2001
80. Yes, I get the impression up to now that
the process has primarily been driven by the printed document,
in the sense that what is happening is that you get the printed
document, then they stick it on the PDVN and put it on the Internet,
and for resource reasons among others they have not tried to build
the kinds of links for people who use the Internet for more sophisticated
searches and so on. Hopefully that will be possible. I now propose
to move on to resource accounts questions. A key element in the
proposed new arrangements is the publication of the audited resource
accounts. Do you think that in the autumn of 2002 it is going
to be feasible? How many departments are in a position, in your
view, to publish audited resource accounts for 2001 this autumn?
(Mr Sharples) This is a very good point. As I was
saying earlier, we are a bit concerned about the length of delay
from the end of the financial year to the publication of audited
accounts, and we would like to work with departments to see what
we can do to speed up that process. I should say that that is
one factor which influenced our thinking on the idea of having
the two-partspring and autumnreports, because if
it were the case that the audited accounts were not available
perhaps until January or February, it would be extremely unfortunate
if the reporting on performance became delayed because of the
delay in the accounts. That is one reason why we think that it
makes sense to get the performance reporting on a regular timetable
in the spring.
81. There will, however, be supplementary performance
information with the resource accounts, will there not?
(Mr Sharples) Yes.
82. From your last reply, I feel I detect a
bit of what I might call the restaurant problemthat you
are having a cheese sandwich and your partner is having boeuf
stroganoff, and you have to wait half an hour for your cheese
sandwich. Is there not a danger of that? Should not supplementary
performance information be published as soon as we have got it,
rather than hanging around waiting for resource accounts?
(Mr Sharples) I think that with performance information
it is important to have a date and then publish the latest available
information on that date. However, I agree that we need to watch
progress on timing. If it continues to be the case that accounts
are not published until the beginning of the following year after
the calendar year in which the accounting year has been concluded,
if there is a long delay of nine months or so, then it will be
extremely unfortunate if the performance information is delayed
so long, and it may be that one wanted to get performance information
out in the autumn in any event.
83. You are in fact saying that it may be the
resource accounts reports will tend only to be available perhaps
(Mr Sharples) That is the position at the moment,
and we are working hard to try to bring that forward. We hope
we will be successful, but there must be a risk that, as you were
saying earlier, it simply takes time for the data to be properly
compiled after the end of the financial year.
Dr Palmer: Thank you for your openness.
84. Perhaps I can follow up the question from
Dr Palmer in terms of the audited resource accounts. Can you give
us an idea of how many departments were ready to publish these,
say, by a date of 1 November, and how many departments were not
ready? That would be helpful to us. If you cannot do it now, perhaps
you would give it to us in a written note.
(Mr Sharples) Perhaps we can give you a note on that.
85. Chairman, as we have time, can I go back
on some of the things we have said. I have read in the paper we
have been given the recommendation of the Procedure Committee,
which said, "We welcome the fact that the departmental plan
will include detailed resource estimates for the forthcoming year."
That seems to be the one committee with Members on it who actually
gave you their views. As I see it, you are now moving from that,
in that having implemented it for one year, a group of civil servants
have got together and have decided to go the opposite way.
(Mr Sharples) I come back to what I was saying earlier.
The first thing we did in this process was to ask the Procedure
Committee for their views. We wanted to do a review which got
input. Two things intervened which made it difficult to get committees'
views. One was the Election and the second was the Summer Recess.
Given that, we had broadly three choices. We could have said,
"Well, since we can't get Parliament's official view on this
timescale, we should just go ahead with the previous plans and
completely reform the structure of departmental reporting regardless."
We thought that would be unsatisfactory, because it is quite a
big change. Given the issues that were being raised, we thought
it was important to take stock before doing that. The second option
was to just go on with what had been published in the past. Given
the level of dissatisfaction with the reports that were published
this year we felt that would also be an unsatisfactory way forward
and that was why we came to the conclusion that the best way forward
was to propose an interim solutionwhich is what we have
proposedand then to take Parliament's view as soon as Parliament
could give a view on, firstly, the shape of that interim solution
and then, secondly, in the light of the implementation of that
interim solution what should be the best way forward for the longer
86. Maybe I am being unfair on you but as I
understand it then, let us just be clear on this, the Procedure
Committee, the one with the Members rather than the Clerk, welcomed
the idea of bringing estimates into departmental reports.
(Mr Sharples) Yes.
87. So that is the one authentic voice, Members
of Parliament, that you have got and you implemented it as I see
(Mr Sharples) That was the change that was introduced
this year, yes.
88. You are now proposing to reverse that?
(Mr Sharples) What we have done
89. Is that not true? We welcome the fact that
the departmental plan will include the detailed resource estimate.
Mr Sharples, are you or are you not not intending to include the
resource estimates in the departmental report in future?
(Mr Sharples) What we are proposing for the future
is a different structure from the structure that was outlined
90. I have just asked you a straightforward
question. Is not the answer you are not intending to include the
detailed estimates as welcomed by the Procedure Committee? Why
can you not just say it?
(Mr Sharples) In this new structure the detailed estimates
will be published alongside the departmental reports with reconciliations
between the two for the reasons that I have explained earlier
and which I think are convincing.
91. So that means, despite the fact it has been
welcomed, you are not going to do it in future?
(Mr Sharples) We have acknowledged that this is a
change of emphasis from what was proposed earlier but I would
come back to what I have said before that rather than go on with
something simply because you have said you would do it, irrespective
of issues and concerns that are being raised, it is sometimes
better to take stock and ask what is the best way forward here.
92. No, no. I am still just getting you to utter
the magic words that you are not including the estimates in the
(Mr Sharples) That is the proposal, that we publish
those separately alongside
93. Is it a proposal?
(Mr Sharples) It is a proposal.
Chairman: It is open to consultation?
Mr Mudie: Good question. Yes.
94. Is it open for consultation? You must have
a simple answer surely.
(Mr Sharples) It is not open for consultation in the
sense that we are not publishing a consultation document on this.
95. You have already said you are going to consult
Parliament, and Parliament is the primary audience so if Parliament
comes back with information you will listen to us?
(Mr Sharples) Absolutely. I have made very clear that
we would very much welcome Parliament's views both on the interim
solution and on the longer term solution.
96. Could I just ask you, in the original 1999
Parliamentary memorandum on Resource Accounting there was a reference
to the fact that there should be more information about the regional
distribution of spending and staffing. That was one of the points
in the 1999 memorandum.
(Mr Sharples) Yes.
97. Now that appears to be lost in the present
proposals, is that right?
(Mr Sharples) We do publish regional information in
the April Report, the public expenditure statistical analysis
document, which gives a detailed breakdown of the regional spend
98. So you are saying that report will carry
the weight of reporting on regional distribution of spending and
staffing, because that is the phrase that is used in it, spending
and staffing. The report to which you have just referred does
not have anything about staffing in it.
(Mr Sharples) Well, we are proposing that as part
of the core tables for the departmental report there should be
a detailed staffing table which provides more breakdown, more
information than is published at the moment, to help understand
how the resources of the department are used. That is essentially
a functional breakdown rather than a regional breakdown.
99. Let us be clear about this. This 1999 report
said there should be more information about regional spending
and staffing and you are saying "Well, do not worry about
regional spending, that is in the report to which you have just
referred" and staffing disappears, is that right?
(Mr Sharples) I think this is one of the issues on
which views of Parliament are welcome. If there is a desire for
more regional breakdown that is something that we would be very
happy to pursue with departments.
3 See Ev 20 Q 2. Back