Select Committee on Treasury Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100 - 117)



  100. You obviously appreciate that regional issues are becoming—
  (Mr Sharples) Of course.


Mr Cousins

  101. Just another question. I happen to be in correspondence with the Minister of Finance in the Northern Ireland Assembly, a man called Mark Durkin, and he very helpfully explained to me that he had negotiated a change in the distribution of resources to Northern Ireland with a knock on effect for Scotland and Wales, that expenditure on London Underground should be included in the totals of the expenditure which were used as the basis of the Barnett Formula. Up to that point in time they had not been included in the totals of expenditure used for the Barnett Formula comparison but he, and no doubt assisted by people in Scotland and Wales, had persuaded the Government that London Transport should be included in that total which gave him, as Minister of Finance in Northern Ireland, £13 million extra and the Scots got £15 million and whatever, whatever, you see how that would work. Now, try as I might, I cannot find that anywhere in the Government's accounts. I cannot find it anywhere. It should be somewhere, should it not?
  (Mr Sharples) The calculation of the Barnett Formula depends on the assessment of which English lines of spending are comparable with the spending of the devolved authorities.

  102. Where would I find comparable English expenditure and the year on year changes? Because you see what the Minister of Finance was telling me was that he had negotiated—it did not mean there was any increase in expenditure on the London Underground—he had just got London Underground put into the pot of expenditure that would be compared for the purposes of the Barnett Formula. Good luck to him. I can see it was very useful. Actually a Democratic Unionist Member of the Legislative Assembly asked me to get in touch with him because he knew all about it. It is funny how politics works, is it not. I cannot find that anywhere in the Government's own accounts. Do you think you could just look that up for me and see where I might find it because that is the sort of thing I would like to look for.
  (Mr Sharples) Allen wants to come in here.


  103. This is leading again to a note. Is that fair enough, rather than an elaborate answer.
  (Mr Ritchie) I do not think it is anywhere published at the moment.

Mr Cousins

  104. It is nowhere?
  (Mr Ritchie) No.

  105. Should it not be?
  (Mr Sharples) The basis for the funding formula for the devolved authorities is set out in financial agreements with the devolved authorities. The precise detail of the calculation, which line of spending you regard as fully comparable or partially comparable, is something which is constantly under review, is constantly changing in the light of the changing balance of spending.

  Chairman: It would help if we could have a note on that.

  Mr Cousins: Yes, could I have a note on that. There is no point in telling me in a note where I can find it because I cannot find it, you have just told me that.


  106. What about a note, Mr Sharples?
  (Mr Sharples) We will see what we can do.[4]

Kali Mountford

  107. On from that question. I am concerned now to know how did you reach any sort of agreement on what the core should be? How did you decide what should be the core issues for departmental reports?
  (Mr Sharples) The core requirements for the departmental reports, essentially by asking what was the need of the audience and then designing core requirements that would provide consistent reporting to meet those needs.

  108. You have now got a defined list of core requirements?
  (Mr Sharples) They are set out in the guidance to departments which as I was saying earlier we would be very happy to share with the Committee and on which we would welcome the views of the Committee.

  109. Can I take it from that answer you will not make a final decision before Members of Parliament have been re-consulted, given you think we have been consulted already, there will be no final decision until that step is taken?
  (Mr Sharples) We have to start work on the departmental reports on some basis. I can assure you that the amount of work that goes into producing a document in April is considerable and departments have to get on with that now. We have had to commission something on the basis that we are discussing this with Parliament. If Parliament has further views on the reports to be published next April we will do our very best to make sure that those are built into the requirements of the departments.

  110. At this stage would the departments simply be gathering together the data they think they may need to present?
  (Mr Sharples) They may also be commissioning drafts and designing structures. As I say, these are lengthy documents which require some preparation.

  111. I accept they are lengthy documents that may require some preparation but I assume that you are concerned that if we went a different route that some of that might have been counterproductive or not needed, would it not be better to take some time to consider Parliament's view on this?
  (Mr Sharples) That is why I say that we would be very pleased to have Parliament's view on this, the proposed format of these reports as an interim solution. We hope Parliament will agree this is a worthwhile interim solution to try and then in the light of your assessment of these reports and how the system is working we can then decide what we do for 2003.


  112. What the Chief Secretary said in his letter to me is you are going ahead with these proposals at the moment, you have already gone ahead, and you will be consulting Parliament in the light of that consultation and there could be changes. Is that correct?
  (Mr Sharples) Indeed. Both in the 2002 Report and certainly in the longer term reports. The only constraint I should explain about the 2002 Report is that the closer we get to the date of publication obviously the more difficult it is to make big changes.

Mr Mudie

  113. Will you be publishing the estimates within those reports?
  (Mr Sharples) The proposal is that we publish the estimates separately, but obviously if Parliament has a strong view that is something that we would listen to.

  114. If this Committee sent word that until all of the members of the committees had been consulted we stick with what the Procedure Committee's agreement welcomed in 1999, which was the inclusion of the estimates. That is the one rock where backbench Members of Parliament have had an input, they have given you a view, you did it one year, you then consulted with civil servants in the departments and you have decided to revert back. As that is the one backbench input, if our Committee say, we would prefer you to stick with what we see as the new arrangement until proper consultation has taken place that would be in time to make sure the 2002 estimates are included? I saw Mr Ritchie's body language when Kali Mountford asked a question, and I think you did too, which alerted me to the fact that I think there is some dubiety on this point.
  (Mr Sharples) Obviously these documents have a certain lead time in preparation and the closer we get to the publication the more difficult it is to make fundamental changes. Obviously ministers would want to weigh up very, very carefully the views of this Committee. I would hope that in considering its recommendations on this point the Committee will consider very carefully the needs and the interests of the wider constituency of users of these reports who do not have an interest in the technical requirements of Parliamentary approval of Estimates but do have a very strong interest in understanding what these departments are doing with their money. We think that our proposals will provide that wider constituency with a clearer and more effective form of communication.

  115. Did you do any polling or any research on the users other than the departments?
  (Mr Sharples) Yes, we asked departments to identify users and to send them the questionnaires which were specifically designed for readers of these reports.

  116. So that input has been fed back and is available for the Committee?
  (Mr Sharples) It is indeed. It is summarised in the report itself.

  117. That is not what I have said. It is available for the Committee?
  (Mr Sharples) I am sure that we can provide whatever information the Committee wants on this point.

  Chairman: Okay. Is everyone satisfied? We have had a fairly worthwhile discussion this morning, Mr Sharples. A couple of points before you leave following Nick Palmer's comments. A number of Members of the Committee I think believe that we still need printed documents, I think that is very important indeed. One of the Committee Members was reading Hansard while the meeting was going on, so printed documents are important as well as documents on the internet. Maybe one thing which has come out of this is there is an inverse relationship between substance and spin in that the less substance there is the more spin. So that is very important, that is what this Committee is after. With those comments, can I thank you and Mr Ritchie—a silent Mr Ritchie—very much for coming along. We look forward to the notes and a further engagement with yourselves and other Treasury witnesses. Thank you very much.

4   See Ev 20 Q 3. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 4 September 2002