Select Committee on Liaison Third Report

Appendix 4: National Audit Office Support for House of Commons Select Committees in 2007


1. The primary responsibility of the Comptroller and Auditor General and the National Audit Office is to assist Parliament in holding government to account for the use of public resources. The Office does this principally by auditing the financial statements of all central government departments, agencies and other public bodies and reporting the results to Parliament; and by presenting some 60 major value for money reports to Parliament each year on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which public money has been used to support the delivery of services for the public.

2. One of the Office's key roles is to support Parliamentary scrutiny by assisting the Committee of Public Accounts when it meets to take evidence from departments on the Comptroller and Auditor General's reports on the results of its financial audit and value for money work. The Office provides informal support to the Committee for the 50 or so meetings a year it holds on these reports and the Comptroller and Auditor General and National Audit Office staff attend each hearing.

3. In addition to supporting the Committee of Public Accounts, with the support of the Public Accounts Commission the National Audit Office has increased the amount of resources available to support other select committees in both Houses. The Office provides support within its areas of expertise, such as analysis of financial statements, value for money, performance evaluation, regulation, financial management and reporting, and policy implementation. This paper sets out the support provided to Commons select committees by the National Audit Office in 2007.

Supporting Select Committees

4. In addition to supporting the Committee of Public Accounts, the Office provides support to other select committees in their scrutiny of public services and expenditure. The support takes a number of forms ranging from the provision of formal evidence for the committee, including evidence-gathering and research in response to a Committee's request, to informal oral and written briefings and the secondment of staff with particular expertise in the area covered by a Committee. In 2007 the Office provided support to 11 Commons select committees (listed in table 1 below).

Table 1: The National Audit Office has supported the following Commons select committees in 2007

Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Committee (and its predecessor the Trade and Industry Committee)

Communities and Local Government Committee

Defence Committee

Education and Skills Committee

Environmental Audit Committee

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

Health Committee

International Development Committee

Public Administration Select Committee

Regulatory Reform Committee

Treasury Committee

Performance briefings for select committees

5. As part of our programme of work aimed at strengthening financial scrutiny, the National Audit Office produced formal briefings for the Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Committee, the Communities and Local Government Committee, and the Defence Committee on the performance of their respective departments in 2006-07. Designed to assist the committees in the examination of their department's expenditure and administration, the briefings were based on material in Departmental Annual Reports and, where appropriate, on issues that had arisen from the National Audit Office's mainstream value for money reports and wider work, for example on regulation, the efficiency programme and performance system validation, and the action departments had taken in response.

6. The performance briefings aim to assist committees in navigating and interpreting the substantial amounts of information available on the performance of specific departments and to identify areas that committees may wish to explore. Following positive feedback from the committees concerned, the National Audit Office has allocated further resources to this area to increase the number of performance briefs it produces for departmental select committees in future.

The Environmental Audit Committee

7. The National Audit Office has a long established relationship with the Environmental Audit Committee and provides regular formal and informal support of various kinds. During 2007 the Office produced four published papers in response to requests for support from the Committee:

  • Cost-effectiveness analysis in the 2006 climate change programme review—a review of the analysis supporting the 2006 Climate Change Programme Review.
  • Central government support for local authorities on climate change—a briefing paper providing details of: what funds central government provides to local authorities on climate change; what expectations or targets central government has set; and what is known about performance.
  • Energy consumption and carbon emissions in government departments—a review conducted in response to the Committee's request that the National Audit Office investigate anomalies in published data for energy consumption and carbon emissions in government departments.
  • The Climate Change Levy and Climate Change Agreements—a briefing designed to assist the Committee's consideration of the effectiveness of these two policies as a whole and their future role in combating climate change.

Other support for select committees

8. The National Audit Office has provided formal written evidence to a number of select committees. For example, during the year the Office provided written briefings to the Treasury Sub-committee on the Debt Management Office's activities and reporting arrangements; issues concerning the administration of tax credits; and progress by the Chancellor's departments in meeting their efficiency targets. Similarly, the Office provided formal written briefings to the Public Administration Select Committee on the work of the Cabinet Office in 2006-07 and to the Communities and Local Government Committee on refuse collection. In response to a specific request from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, the Office examined British Waterways' finances and the income available to fund the estimated costs of work required to maintain British Waterways' assets in a satisfactory condition.

9. The Office has also assisted a number of select committees by providing oral and written briefings on subjects to help identify areas for committee scrutiny. For example, the Office briefed the Trade and Industry on the UK Construction Industry in October and briefed the Regulatory Reform Committee on the Administrative Burdens Reductions Programme in November.

10. Support to select committees in 2007 included secondments of National Audit Office staff to the Defence, Environmental Audit, and Treasury Committees and a part time attachment of a specialist to the Public Administration Select Committee to assist with its inquiry into Third Sector Commissioning. The Office also provides support to the Committee Office Scrutiny Unit by seconding two or three staff at a time to the Unit.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2008
Prepared 4 April 2008