Select Committee on Treasury Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120 - 128)



  Q120  Mr Todd: I will just end by saying that you have made a very important qualification—"genuinely wishes". The onus, because of the way you have designed it—you have explained very well why you have done it that way—is very firmly on the department promoting this project to own the outcome and work out the solutions. There is not a great deal of external interface to test whether that has happened or not. I touched on a couple of projects where I think there is a good deal of evidence that, had there been greater public debate about some of the issues involved, we might have seen a rather better outcome—perhaps more blood on the carpet but a better outcome.

   Mr Oughton: You are right, of course, Mr Todd, that that is the way the process is set up. The accountability and ownership of course has to be with the departments. It would be quite wrong for the Office of Government Commerce—

  Q121  Mr Todd: I am not suggesting that at all.

  Mr Oughton: —to be asserting ownership.

  Q122  Mr Todd: I am not suggesting that at all.

  Mr Oughton: I am sure you were not. In terms of the public scrutiny, I would expect the select committees for both the departments you have mentioned to have given both of those projects a pretty thorough going-over at pretty frequent intervals. I think there is a degree of public accountability that does exist.

  Q123  Mr Todd: Without that key information source.

  Mr Oughton: I would expect the department to draw heavily on what the gateway report is telling them.

  Q124  Chairman: Ms Keegan, the departmental report states that you have a programme of department by department reviews of the effectiveness of financial management. What will happen to those reviews; are you going to publish the findings?

  Ms Keegan: It was not my intention, Mr Fallon, that we should publish the individual reports. They are but a first-phase in a process of continuing improvement of financial management in each department. I would characterise the first reports as essentially a mutual understanding between the Treasury and the department on its key priorities for probably the next 18 months in terms of financial management improvement. It is a bit like painting the Forth Bridge; as soon as we have finished the first round of the reviews we shall be going back to look at progress and to look at the next steps that have to be taken. I have been recently transparent in talking across Government about the common features that arise from the reviews done to date, and we have established various programmes of work with finance directors across Government, to take forward mutual aid on best practice and what we should do about common themes that need improvement.

  Q125  Chairman: Would the Treasury object to providing the various departmental select committees with a summary of those findings?

  Ms Keegan: That must be a matter for the department with the departmental committees.

  Q126  Chairman: The Treasury does not object to doing that?

  Mr Macpherson: Not hugely. There is always a trade-off with these things. If you want people to do something, on the whole it is helpful if you can be reasonably candid with them. Once they start thinking it is going to be published and given to a select committee, you get into the business of "do we really want to be so candid because it will cause us all sorts of grief?"

  Q127  Chairman: That is why I used the word "summary". Perhaps you would like to think about that. You said also that you hope the main departments will provide the resource for 05-06 ahead of the parliamentary recess next summer. Are you confident that will happen?

  Ms Keegan: I am currently in dialogue with the major departments as to whether they think they can achieve this. I am not confident that we will achieve 100%. That said, we have made enormous progress this year. The 04-05 accounts—50% of them were published pre-recess, if I take the total population of the departments. Another seven or eight were available during the recess, although obviously they cannot be laid at that point; and another eight have been published since. I can say with absolute confidence that, again, departments have made great progress this year. I expect to see the same sort of progress again next year, in other words for the 05-06 accounts. Whether we will achieve 100% pre-recess—bluntly, I doubt it.

  Q128  Chairman: You have the date now, and you also know there is not a September sitting, so if they are not laid by the time of the recess then they are not available officially until late October.

  Ms Keegan: Yes, but a number of the major departments have made improvements of the order of 50 days from last year to this year in terms of their availability of accounts. For some of them, if they improve again by 50 days next year, that still will not get us before the summer recess. That is why I am saying that I doubt whether we will achieve 100%; but I would hope that they would mostly be ready for when we return from the summer recess next year, although that is not quite what we had hoped to achieve.

  Chairman: We will have to leave it there. Thank you very much, and to your officials.

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