Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100
TUESDAY 6 NOVEMBER 2001
100. You obviously appreciate that regional
issues are becoming
(Mr Sharples) Of course.
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 negotiatedit
did not mean there was any increase in expenditure on the London
Undergroundhe 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.
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.
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
(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
(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
113. Will you be publishing the estimates within
(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
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 Ritchiea silent
Mr Ritchievery 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