Accountability for public money - Public Accounts Committee Contents

1  Accounting Officer role and accountability

1. It is central to the British constitution that the Crown (Government) can only do what Parliament will pay for. Parliament rightly expects that public funds will be managed properly with a strong focus on value for money. HM Treasury has set out, in Managing Public Money, the principles that central government bodies should apply when managing public resources. Managing Public Money recognises that 'the duty to safeguard public funds is invariant. But how it is carried out will change over time'.[1]

2. The personal accountability of the Accounting Officer forms the foundation of Parliament's ability to hold the Executive to account for public spending.[2] Ministers are answerable to Parliament for policy decisions and the actions of the departments and their executive agencies. The Accounting Officer, normally the Permanent Secretary in the department, is personally responsible for the regularity and propriety of expenditure, robust evaluation of different mechanisms for delivering policy objectives, value for money, the management of risk, and accurate accounting for the use of resources. To support these responsibilities the Accounting Officer requires an effective assurance regime.

3. We, the Committee of Public Accounts, hold Accounting Officers to account for the delivery of these objectives by considering the reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG). The C&AG audits the accounts of all government departments and agencies as well as a wide range of other public bodies and reports to Parliament on the value for money - the economy, efficiency and effectiveness - with which these bodies have used public money. This system of accountability to Parliament has been agreed between the Treasury and this Committee for many decades.

4. The Accounting Officer model has a number of strengths and has led to high standards of propriety in public spending and a focus within departments on regularity and the importance of securing value for money. We have, however, observed tensions in how this accountability is exercised at present and potential complications may arise in future from greater devolved delivery of public services. For example, the diversification of the range and type of service providers, delivery bodies and structures over the past two decades and the devolution of power from major Whitehall departments have diminished the extent to which this accountability is vested in the Accounting Officer.[3]

1   HM Treasury, Managing Public Money, October 2007, Foreword, paragraph iii. Back

2   Qq 32, 78  Back

3   Q71  Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 5 April 2011