Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120
WEDNESDAY 16 NOVEMBER 2005
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 ityou
have explained very well why you have done it that wayis
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
outcomeperhaps 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
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
Mr Oughton: I would expect the
department to draw heavily on what the gateway report is telling
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
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 accounts50%
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-recessbluntly, 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.