Select Committee on Treasury Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100-115)


18 OCTOBER 2006

  Q100  Mr Todd: When you said "intentions" I thought you meant something else—

  Ms Keegan: No, the recruitment campaign. So we are at 90% today—

  Q101  Mr Todd: I thought someone had given you a promise.

  Ms Keegan: No, we are at 90% today and we have recruitment campaigns running for the other 9%, and then there is a rump of less than 1% of current spend, which is in six departments, which are tiny.

  Q102  Mr Todd: I think we should applaud the progress which has been made. I think it is excellent.

  Ms Keegan: If I say we are not resting on our laurels it is because one finance director does not create financial management in the department and we need breadth and depth.

  Q103  Mr Todd: That is why I would have liked to have heard more about the systems which are going to lie behind their work.

  Ms Keegan: May I just add to that to say systems are improving throughout government all the time and a measure of that is in the departmental resources accounts, which are laid before Parliament. Two years ago, 10 departments laid before the recess; one year ago 25 departments laid before the recess; this year I was delighted to announce that 42 out of 49 sets of resource accounts were audited and laid before Parliament before the summer recess. It is not 100% and one always aims for 100%, but I think that measure of progress in the last three years is remarkable, and that is a demonstration of improving systems in departments and improving financial strength.

  Q104  Mr Todd: Yes, but my point still stands.

  Ms Keegan: We are never going to be satisfied with where we have got to, we always want to—

  Q105  Mr Todd: No, but more about the access to the broader financial information available for management decision making. Turning to the report of the 2007 CSR, the report says that the Government will seek input from public service professionals, stakeholders and critically the users of public services in the coming year. Is there a role for select committees in helping establish those?

  Mr Macpherson: I think select committees can make a very positive contribution and we would certainly welcome your views. In terms of precise arrangements, Mridul will tell you where we are.

  Ms Brivati: There are a number of work streams underway which I think will provide opportunities for the Committee and its Members to influence the Comprehensive Spending Review. One of these is a new proposal for how we will develop the PSA framework, which the Economic Secretary to the Treasury announced in his speech yesterday. The story of the PSA framework has been one of evolution over the course of consecutive Spending Reviews and the upshot of what the Economic Secretary was saying yesterday is that we want to take this further in the next Spending Review. We want to move towards a more focused set of corporate PSAs which represent genuine cross-government priorities. On the question of involvement, we want to establish what the PSAs and the specific targets attached to them are through more involvement with frontline users and other stakeholders prior to their being set, and then in terms of assessing outcomes of those PSAs. We also want to give more weight to user satisfaction. That is one important workstream of the Comprehensive Spending Review where we expect to see more openness and more consultation with external stakeholders.

  Q106  Mr Todd: Could you share that methodology with us?

  Ms Brivati: I would be very pleased to send you a copy of the Economic Secretary's speech which sets out in more detail exactly what the proposals are.

  Q107  Mr Todd: I think we can get that bit, but I would be surprised if he went into detail as to precisely how the consultation with the public would actually work.

  Ms Brivati: We will, over the course of the PBR, the Budget and successive events, be revealing in more detail the process of these proposals.

  Q108  Mr Todd: Would you have any difficulty about giving a draft copy of the Treasury's own PSA targets to the Committee for our comment?

  Mr Macpherson: As and when we have one, and if the decision is taken to go out and to consult on them then it would be a pleasure.

  Q109  Chairman: You have said you are seeking input from stakeholders. Presumably we are a stakeholder in your work?

  Mr Macpherson: A key one, which we value.

  Q110  Chairman: So you will send us a draft?

  Mr Macpherson: If you wanted to get ahead of the game, you could look at our current lot and tell us which ones you think could be improved or axed, or replaced. We were discussing the environment earlier. But as I say, if the Government does decide to issue some draft PSAs we will definitely want to be part of that.

  Q111  Chairman: Just a housekeeping point. We are always concerned here on the Committee that senior people tend to disappear. We asked questions once about Nicholas Stern. We have now heard that David Varney has resigned. Can you explain that?

  Mr Macpherson: Yes, David was always planning to stay for two to three years. He did two years, in my view very successfully. He had been asked to do a review of transformation of government and I think he felt that as the Revenue and Customs had got to a position where they had identified a five year plan for the coming period reflecting the last Budget's CSR settlement for them, he felt it was time to move on. I would have much preferred it if he had stayed there for a very long time, but he wants to leave the civil service at the end of this year. He is going to complete his review, which I think will be published in the PBR, and that is what he wants to do.

  Q112  Chairman: So there is no policy disagreement?

  Mr Macpherson: Absolutely none. If you invited him here, he would say exactly the same thing.

  Q113  Chairman: Have you announced a successor yet?

  Mr Macpherson: No. At present Paul Gray is the acting chairman.

  Q114  Chairman: Are you going to appoint a successor?

  Mr Macpherson: Yes, we are, but in due course.

  Q115  Chairman: Does that mean soon?

  Mr Macpherson: The HMRC board structure has the benefit of having a deputy chairman. Paul is the deputy chairman. He is now acting chairman. We need to resolve the precise structure of the board in the coming period and I would hope we can resolve this soon, yes.

  Chairman: All right. Thank you very much for your attendance today.

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