Select Committee on Treasury Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Letter from Mr Barry Sheerman MP, Education and Skills Committee

  Thank you for your letter of 12 December 2001 about the Review of Departmental Reports. We on the Education and Skills Committee are particularly concerned to have a comprehensive view of education spending by local authorities. However, this is made difficult because most of the income for such spending is derived from the Revenue Support Grant, which is the responsibility of the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions.

  We are also keen to monitor the Government's progress towards achieving its target of increasing the share of GDP devoted to education. We therefore require figures to be produced on a UK basis, as well as looking at the DfES expenditure which is almost entirely concerned with England. We are aware that past UK expenditure figures are reported in the Treasury's Statistical Analyses volume. Nevertheless, given the importance attached to this target, we believe the relevant UK data might usefully by reported in the DfES report. There would also be merit in forecasts of UK education expenditure as a proportion of GDP, at least for the period covered by each spending review.

  We attach great importance to being able to trace trends in performance over time, for example, to compare the first and second terms of the current Labour Government with its Conservative predecessors, so it is desirable to have as much consistency in reporting and estimating expenditure as possible. Time series must be available even where there are reforms to expenditure reporting.

  Any electronic publication of the Estimates should be an addition to, and not a substitute for, publication in a printed format suitable for consideration by the House of Commons.

  Your letter asked about Supplementary Estimates. We did not receive advance copies in draft of the Winter Supplementary Estimates for DfES (Cm 5335) which were fairly complicated, with a number of transfers arising from the splitting of the old DfEE. Apart from receiving a background note from the Clerk based on the usual Hansard written answer [28 November], we took no action as a Committee. The shortness of the interval between the publication of the Supplementary Estimates on 29 November and the "roll up''Votes on 11 December precluded any effective action on our part to take evidence and publish a Report before the House voted the Estimates.

  As far as the explanatory material in the Supplementary Estimates was concerned, it was impenetrable and I wrote to the Secretary of State on 5 December to tell her so. In her helpful reply of 10 January, Estelle Morris admitted that with hindsight it would have been helpful to include in the Winter Supplementarty a functional breakdown in the Notes to the Estimate of the functions that support each of the DfES objectives. The Secretary of State repeated the undertaking given in 2000 to the previous Committee that there would be a new programme-based format in future, starting with the main Request for Resources for 2002-03. DfES have sent us their proposed new format for the Estimate Part II tables,which represents a considerable improvement in clarity and informativeness over previous years.

  As you may know, I raised a concern last year with Stephen Timms, then Chief Secretary, about the delay between the formal laying of the Resource Estimates by the end of January and their publication, which in some cases was several weeks later [Hansard, 25 April 2001, col 294-5]. I hope that your Committee will keep an eye on this, to ensure that Resource Accounts are made available more speedily this year. I note with some scepticism the present Chief Secretary's aspiration in paragraph 5 of his letter to you of 16 October 2001 that from this year the Resource Accounts will be appearing "in the autumn''.

15 January 2002

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